A Very Different Coast Guard

In Science Fiction, an “alternate reality” is a common plot device. It allows you to think “outside the box” and sidestep some of your preconceptions. A recent post, “Maritime Security Operations and the ‘Myth’ of Piracy,” allowed me to look at how Coast Guard missions are done in an alternate reality, the UK. I’d like to recommend it, not because I agree with the conclusions, but because they are so different.

What would be Coast Guard missions in the US, are fractured among several agencies in the UK. Many are done by the Royal Navy and fixed wing Maritime SAR has been done by RAF Nimrod ASW aircraft (Just as it is done by CP-140 Auroras in Canada). Deep defense cuts in the wake of a defense review, are taking away many of the resources that have done these missions. The RN is loosing many of its older smaller frigates that have done law enforcement. Towing vessels are being discarded. The new generation of Nimrods, now almost finished at great expense, are to be discarded. This raises the question, how will these missions be done in the future?

They have a Maritime and Coast Guard Agency, but it is very small, unarmed, civilian, and relies heavily on volunteers. They do SAR with surface assets, Merchant Vessel safety, and marine pollution prevention, but no drug or fisheries enforcement and no buoy tending (this seems to be handled locally although there seems to be a bill to establish nationwide funding and oversight). They have a UK Border Agency (analogous to Immigration Customs Enforcement) that works with police to do drug and migrant interdiction, and they have more than one fisheries enforcement agency including a separate one for Scotland. None of these agencies appear to operate aircraft.

Among the comments were calls for an American style Coast Guard, but the post proposes something the author considers less radical, using the Royal Fleet Auxiliary (RFA, a rough equivalent of the Military Sealift Command, MSC) to man ships and put them under the authority of the Coast Guard, Customs, and Fisheries Agencies, “In UK waters Fisheries officers could be carried, and Customers officers in the same way.  In the Caribbean or off Somalia I would suggest the boarding parties should be made up of Royal Marines.

And rather than use small Offshore Patrol Vessels, he proposes using Naval Auxiliaries, “I am not a big fan of smaller less flexible vessels, so lets go to the other extreme and examine the use of really big RFA’s for these maritime security operations.

“As the RN surface fleet has shrunk, RFA tankers and the auxiliary landing ships of the Bay Class have been used on the Windies Guard Ship’ and other duties. While some have questioned the veracity of using a tanker to do anti-drug runner ops’ I say “so what?” – it’s a flexible asset, use it for whatever you can.

That is a very different view. There has been a lively response to the post with over 90 replies. We have had our own experiment with manning ships for other agencies. Depending on the National Science Foundation to fund the Icebreaker program is what got us in the current situation.  The poster never addressed who he expected to do air ops for his coast guard.

Looking at this alternate reality makes me appreciate what we have in terms of the opportunities for synergy, flexibility, coordination, and efficiency.

6 thoughts on “A Very Different Coast Guard

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention New on CGBlog: A Very Different Coast Guard -- Topsy.com

  2. Trinity House handles ATON for much of the UK and some overseas territories: http://www.trinityhouse.co.uk/index.html

    In Scotland, ATON is handled by the Northern Lighthouse Board: http://www.nlb.org.uk/

    In the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, ATON is handled by the Commissioner of Irish Lights:
    http://www.commissionersofirishlights.com/

    Helicopter SAR is also handled by the RAF in coordination with HM Coast Guard.

    In Ireland, helicopter SAR is handled by the Irish Coast Guard.

    Small boat SAR is handled by the Royaln National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI).

    • Rick, Thanks for the additional information. Don’t know how I forgot the Royal National Lifeboat Institution, surprising no one mentioned it in the post or the discussion.

      I’m also surprised to see that the same organization does both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland.

      Of course the situation in the US is not as clear as it might be, in that Immigration and Customs Enforcement and DEA also do Maritime interdiction.

  3. Chuck

    Thanks very much for linking to and discussing my post at ThinkDefence. I stop by this blog quite frequently for updates on the USCG, and as you point out, we do indeed do things very differently. I guess I did not mention the RNLI in the original article as my focus was (supposed) to be on the MSO / anti-piracy side of things. They are of course a fantastic volunteer organisation that sorties in any weather to save lives in peril at sea.

    Rick is absolutely right about Trinity House, but even though I am ex RN and was based in Scotland for years, I have to admit I have never heard of the Northern Lighthouse Board ! We live and learn eh ?

  4. Hello Chuck Hill,

    an excellent post.
    I agree with your conclusions,things are a bit of a mess in the United Kingdom,though in some cases there are good reasons for that,in others there are not.

    Her Majesty’s Coast Guard is in many ways more akin to Bay Watch than the United States Coast Guard,being largely land based.

    In addition to the agencies mentioned by Rick Nygren,the Royal Navy also provides many of the Search And Rescue helicopters in the United Kingdom (the Coast Guard only has a handful of helicopters).

    I can think of at least four agencies with fisheries protection vessels.
    At least four organisations operate maritime patrol aircraft including the Scottish government,Royal Air Force,Marine Management Organisation and the Coast Guard.

    The British Antarctic Survey has more icebreakers than the Royal Navy and some aircraft too.

    The new Borders Agency operates 4 of Her Majesty’s Revenue Cutters which will look very familiar to any coastie – their origins are very similar to the origins of the United States Coast Guard.

    Most rescue boats are operated by charities such as the Royal National Lifeboat Institute.
    They are manned by volunteer civilian crews who are rightly revered both locally and nationally,they are not however part of the Coast Guard which has it’s own handful of boats.
    The British lifeboats would probably be a subject which your readers would find interesting.

    GrandLogistics.

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