Weaknesses Run Deep

By John McCormick  |  Posted 2003-09-09 Print this article Print

Weaknesses Run Deep

Its a nice goal, but the Coast Guard information and communications shortcomings run deep.

The Coast Guard already has the Marine Information for Safety and Law Enforcement (MISLE) database, which keeps track of commercial vessel owners and operators and ship-boarding at sea; and the Ship Arrival Notification System (SANS), which collects crew lists and other information, before a vessel arrives in the U.S.

But crew logs are often faxed and indecipherable, preventing Coast Guard personnel from entering the list into the notification system.

The Coast Guard can go out to sea to intercept a vessel if it believes the ship is carrying unwanted persons. But its not easy. On average, 15 to 20 commercial vessels arrive every day in the Port of Oakland. Each carries 25 to 30 crew members. Thats 375 to 600 names to check out daily—or more than 200,000 each year. According to the Coast Guard, 90% of the crews are foreigners. Right now, says Philips, "were relying on the credibility of the sender of the information."

In addition, the Coast Guard does not have a system to keep track of small boats, which are registered by California and other states. The Coast Guard has been trying to develop such a program called the Vessel Identification Systems (VIS), which would give Coast Guard crews information on any of the recreational boats and other craft tooling in and out of the marina just east of the Port of Oakland. So far, it has failed.

Get more on sharing data effectively and the obstacles to sharing it safely.


The identification system could be a valuable tool. With access to vessel registration and licenses, the Coast Guard would know instantly if a boat was allowed in a restricted area, such as the waters around the Coast Guard station on Yerba Buena Island, the shore around the San Francisco and Oakland airports, or the docks of the Port of Oakland.

Computer Sciences Corp. delivered a version of the identification system to the Coast Guard in 1998. But, according to the General Accounting Office, the system had trouble sorting out duplicate documents and tracking boats that were relocated from state to state.

Next page: Getting Federal monies the old fashioned way: grant writing.


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