US Coast Guard/Department of Homeland Security (DHS) meeting on maritime sector threat information sharing

US Coast Guard/Department of Homeland Security (DHS) meeting on maritime sector threat information sharing

On 1 September 2004, the USCG Port Security Directorate sponsored a meeting to discuss the information-sharing mechanism used to allow the US government and the diverse members of the maritime industry to share threat information, and the need for a maritime sector coordinating entity.

The purpose of the meeting was to introduce an ambitious Department of Homeland Security (DHS) initiative to create a Maritime Sector Coordinating Council. The proposed Council was presented as a self-governing body with participants mainly from industry but also from the government. It would have both a strategic and tactical mission. The organisational structure would include:

1) The Maritime Sector Coordinating Council;

2) Sub-Councils; and

3) ISAC (Information Sharing and Analysis Centres).

The latter implies that the industry will be involved in both sharing the information and as a participant in the analysis of the information received. Other particulars of the Maritime Sector Coordinating Council were defined as follows:

  1. The role of the Council will be to serve as the primary, policy-level interface with the DHS and the government on homeland security matters.
  2. The Council’s decision-making power will not encroach on individual sector members’ interests.
  3. The Council will facilitate intra-sector communications and determine processes for information sharing.
  4. The Council will communicate the sector’s needs and requests for resources to the government.
  5. One of the first activities of the Council should be to establish a clearing house of existing sector activities related to homeland security needs so that the sector and government can reduce the chances of redundancy of efforts.
  6. The Council should develop the sector’s organisational structure; ensure that the definition and membership for each sub-council are clear; and map the sector organisation to its government counterparts.
  7. The Sector Council will be led by an executive committee.

The sub-councils have yet to be defined but their purpose will be to:

  1. articulate their priorities and action items to the Council
  2. name representatives to the Council
  3. examine the general areas of: communications and information sharing; research and development, including detection; incident management; vulnerability assessments; recovery.

The presentation and the numerous questions that followed revealed that the structure, the mission and the function of the Council are still unclear. It is not clear whether trade associations like INTERTANKO/INTERCARGO/ICS/BIMCO could become part of this body and, if access is granted, how the information would be further shared among their membership. Equally unclear was whether non-US ship operators could be directly involved in such information sharing. It was not clearly explained whether this Maritime Sector Coordinating Council would, in addition to discussing threats, also be able to take decisions and propose measures or whether this would be left to other bodies.

It is difficult to foresee future developments. The USCG might take the initiative to organise a new meeting to clarify the concept further, or possibly the entire project might not take off at all. The project appears to be a Department of Homeland Security (DHS) initiative and, if developed, would likely replace many already well-established current communication channels used by the USCG and the maritime industry such as Harbor Safety Committees, Areas Security Committees, COPT's Bulletins and Notices/Advices, etc.

Finally, the audience learned of the soon-to-be-introduced USCG web site format which would (a) simplify access and (b) provide information which is not for public consumption. The latter would be accessed through a user name and a password provided by the USCG to those selected through a security clearance process. It appears, however, that the new web site will facilitate easier access to information to the COPT rather than to the private sector. Some of the features that would be accessible in the new web site include facility and vessel security plans, maritime area security plans, alternative area security plans, etc. The private sector access will be granted according to the user's profile and the group to which it belongs (terms yet to be defined). The information will be provided for each of the COPTs new standard web sites and the free access information will give a continuous update of the MARSEC Level and access to the latest notices.

Click here for a copy of the meeting agenda.

Contact: Dragos Rauta