CBS Reports on MSRT Exercise

CBS New had a June 14, report on the Coast Guard’s Maritime Security Response Team (MSRT). Their report includes a video of the exercise. The video of the same exercise, above is a bit different. It shows the exercise as a bit more complex. It included at least three boats and two helicopters. It also looks like both helicopters conducted fast roping.

As a former exercise planner I have a few observations and comments.

The Exercise:

First I would have to acknowledge that we don’t know how far along the teams are in their training or exactly what the training objectives were.

This may have been more PAO effort than training.

Only bad guys died, none of the good guys. Miles gear and a smart, well trained, agressive red cell would have made this much more meaningful.

These had to be the dumbest opposition forces in history. They made no coordinated effort to prevent the boarding.

There were no warning shots or other evidence of an effort stop the vessel and determine if the vessel and crew were in fact hostile. If the crew and vessel were known to be hostile, we probably should have shot it up before the boarding.

It looks like the “fast rope” boarding from the helicopter not only happened before the boarding from boats, it happened before the boats were in position to provide supporting fire to pen down the terrorists and prevent them from engaging the helicopter and the team fast roping from it. Members of the fast roping team were standing around on the stern waiting for the team from the RHIB while bad guys were still on the same deck hanging out forward.

I have to wonder why they used a Navy H-60 instead of a Coast Guard helicopter. I thought all Coast Guard helicopters were now capable of air-borne use of force. While there are certainly plenty of Navy H-60s in San Diego, that is not the case in other West coast ports.

The vessel was unusually easy to board. A different configuration would have been much more challenging.

The Concept:

Unfortunately when you create an “elite team” there is a tendency to say that is their job, the rest of us don’t have to worry about it. Unfortunately the rest of the Coast Guard cannot simply go back to SAR and stop worrying about this terrorist stuff.

We have, I believe, only two Maritime Security Response Teams, while we have at least 30 ports that are potential terrorist targets. For rapidly developing threats the probability that an MSRT will be in the right place at the right time, or that they will be able to get there is slim.

During WWII both the Germans and the Japanese formed elite fighter squadrons that did extremely well but the concept was disastrous. What worked was what the US did. The US used its best fighter pilots to train others. It raised the general level of competence of the entire force.

The MSRTs could certainly be useful in a slow developing scenario like a cruise ship take-over, but perhaps their greatest role might be as OPFOR, training local units in how to respond, a sort of Red Flag/Top Gun role.

Thanks to Daniel for bringing this to my attention. The criticisms are mine not his. 

Fisheries as a National Resource

Tuna Purser ALBATUN DOS – Port Victoria harbor – Seychelles Islands

Baird Maritime has an interesting post that reports a study has found that, “…up to 54 per cent of the high seas fishing industry would be unprofitable without large government subsidies.” and “The research suggests that through targeted subsidy reforms, governments could save taxpayers money, rebuild fish stocks, and eventually lead to higher value, lower volume fisheries.”

In too many places, too many fishing vessels are chasing too few fish, depleting the stocks and leading to a downward spiral in catch. That governments would encourage this is appalling.

The World Trade Organization (WTO) has been trying to do something about this since 2001, and apparently they have decided to decide.

WTO members agreed to continue to engage constructively in the negotiations, with a view to adopting by the Ministerial Conference in 2019, an agreement on comprehensive and effective disciplines that prohibit certain forms of fisheries subsidies that contribute to overcapacity and overfishing, and eliminate subsidies that contribute to illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing. The decision recognizes that appropriate and effective special and differential treatment for developing country members and least-developed country members should be an integral part of the negotiations.

With this decision, the WTO has made a multilateral commitment to fulfil Sustainable Development Goal 14.6, which calls for the prohibition and elimination, by 2020, of fisheries subsidies that contribute to IUU fishing and to overcapacity and overfishing, with special and differential treatment for developing and least-developed country WTO members to be an integral part of the negotiations.

Frankly I think countries are going at this ass backward. Instead of paying people to fish, commercial fishermen should be paying for a limited number of licenses to take limited numbers of fish. At least fish within the EEZ are a national resource, same as offshore oil deposits. We put the rights to exploit those resources up for bid. It should be no different for fisheries.


“On Patrol with Cutting Edge Technology”–Marine Link

FLIR/Raymarine integrated navigation.

MarineLink has a post (by Joseph Keeke) which, while it is obviously something of a commercial sales pitch, contains a lot of information about an ongoing Coast Guard program to provide integrated navigation system for a wide range of maritime platforms.

“In April of 2017, FLIR was awarded a $50 million contract from the U.S. Coast Guard for integrated navigation electronics under the U.S. Coast Guard’s Scalable Integrated Navigation Systems 2 (SINS-2) program. As part of the contract, FLIR will provide electronics systems that will be a standard fit on over 2,000 U.S. Coast Guard vessels, ranging from small-class boats through large cutter-class vessels.

“Beyond the need for robust hulls and competent sailors to bring them out to sea, operators first need the ability to transmit data securely. To that end, and leveraging the same VHF frequency band as AIS, Raymarine’s LightHouse OS is the first Commercially-Developed, Military-Qualified navigation system to send and receive data via encrypted SBU Type-III Tactical Data Exchange System (STEDS.) Designed specifically for the needs of the United States Coast Guard and first responders, SBU Type-III encryption-ready LightHouse software also supports secure text communication between agencies, enabling crews to send and receive short messages with tasking and status reports.

“The encrypted MFD and the network it participates on also ensures the accuracy and completeness of messages, tasking orders, and other missions. McGowan adds, “Consider a SAR pattern, which in the past would need to be manually plotted on a chart or entered into an electronic system. Not only was it time-consuming, but also the potential for data entry errors was very high. Our integrated, secure system allows a SAR pattern to arrive digitally without the need to manually copy it down or plot it out. It is essentially ready-to-use when it’s ‘beamed’ aboard.”

“When interfaced to a compatible eAIS transceiver, encrypted Raymarine multifunction navigation systems can display Blue Force AIS symbology, along with conventional AIS targets. Mariners see the optimal course for intercepting any AIS or Radar (MARPA/ARPA) target of interest with easy-to-understand graphics that automatically update as conditions change or targets attempt evasive maneuvers.


Caribbean Fantasy Fire–NTBSB Report Summary

The NTSB has issued their report on the fire aboard the RO-RO ferry Caribbean Fantasy. All aboard were rescued with no serious injuries, but if this had occurred further from rescue facilities, it could have turned out tragically. You can read the abstract here.

While the Coast responded laudably, this incident was also a failure of prevention–a failure to prevent bad practices and ensure adequate training. Some of the findings:

2. The fire on the port main propulsion engine started when fuel spraying from a leaking blank flange at the end of the engine’s fuel supply line came into contact with the hot exhaust manifold and ignited.

3. Use of improper gasket material on the pressurized fuel supply end flange for the port main engine resulted in a breakdown of the gasket material and the eventual fuel spray that led to the fire.

4. The nonstandard blanking plate used on the end flange of the port main engine fuel supply system potentially exacerbated the leak that led to the fire.

5. Bolts inserted by Caribbean Fantasy engineering personnel into the quick-closing valves to prevent their closing were permanently in place for use during routine operations. (Emphasis applied–Chuck)

6. Testing during recent class surveys and port state control examinations did not adequately test the full functionality of the quick-closing valves.

9. The carbon dioxide fixed firefighting system did not extinguish the fire due to ventilation dampers that failed to properly close.

12. The abandonment process on board the Caribbean Fantasy was disorganized and inefficient.

13. Crewmembers assigned to safety-critical roles on the lifeboats were not proficient with the procedures for opening the lifeboat release hooks, which delayed the abandonment and put lives at risk.

14. The crew assigned to deploy the marine evacuation system and liferafts were not adequately trained, which delayed the abandonment.

15. The crew did not follow the manufacturer’s procedures when launching the starboard marine evacuation system liferafts, which resulted in the premature inflation of the liferafts.

16. The five ankle injuries resulted from using the marine evacuation system deployed at a steeper angle than designed.

On a positive note:

18. The presence of a passenger vessel safety specialist at Coast Guard Sector San Juan, who had trained and worked with local officials, contributed to the success of the Caribbean Fantasy mass rescue operation.

Recommendations included:

To the US Coast Guard:
1. Require operators to perform full function tests of quick-closing valves during inspections and examinations, ensuring that the associated systems shut down as designed and intended.

2. Evaluate the feasibility of creating a passenger vessel safety specialist billet at each sector that has the potential for a search and rescue activity characterized by the need for immediate assistance to a large number of persons in distress, and staff sector-level billets, as appropriate, based on the findings of that evaluation.

Thanks to Bryant’s Maritime Consulting for bringing this to my attention.

“Five key challenges for SOUTHCOM”–Military Times


Photo:  Adm. Kurt W. Tidd, SOUTHCOM 

Since pretty much all of SOUTHCOM’s ships are Coast Guard, might be good to know what he is thinking. Military Times reports on Admiral Tidd address before the Association of the United States Army’s forum on June 6. He talked about five key concerns:

  1. Great power competition is happening down South.
  2. Terrorist groups are fundraising in our backyard.
  3. Terrorist recruiting and attacks are happening in the Caribbean.
  4. SOUTHCOM has responsibility for one of the world’s key transit points, the Panama Canal.
  5. The Syrian refugee crisis isn’t the only such crisis having regional effects. Just look at Venezuela.

Read the full article linked above for more detail.