Russian Coast Guard Involved in Dispute with Japanese.

Another island territorial dispute, and as usual, a coast guard is in the middle of it.

The Russian Coast Guard denied Japanese media reports on Wednesday that it had opened fire on a Japanese fishing vessel off the disputed South Kuril islands. (The Russian Coast Guard did shoot into a Japanese fishing vessel about a year ago.) Continue reading

China Building Six Major Cutters a Year–How many are Enough?

China Defense Blog is reporting “In order to improve the capacity of marine law enforcement and safeguard marine rights, China plans to build 30 vessels for marine law enforcement in the next five years.” The source is here, but the blog has pictures, as well the complete text, while the source has none.

I found this quotation puzzling:

“China has a vast area of seas, but the number and the tonnage of vessels for marine law enforcement are both small. China’s fleet does not meet the standard of one vessel per 1,000 square kilometers (emphasis applied) and there is a huge gap compared to other developed countries, said Li Lixin, director of South China Sea Branch of State Oceanic Administration of China, on Monday.”

For comparison, from Wikipedia:

The US has the largest EEZ in the world: 11,351,000 sq km

Japan EEZ: 4,479,358 sq km

China’s EEZ is much smaller, 877,019 sq km. Even adding the EEZ of Taiwan and other areas claimed by China, but disputed by others (3,000,000 sq km) the total is 3,877,019 sq km.

Applying a one patrol vessel to 1,000 sq km would mean the USCG should have 11,351 cutters. In fact we have 43 patrol cutters over 1000 tons or about 1 per 264,000 sq km. If the Chinese had a ship to patrol area ratio like ours, they would only need three or four ships. Clearly there is a disconnect here.

We talked a bit about a comparison of the Japanese Coast Guard and their Chinese counterparts here, and it is clearly the Japanese they are comparing themselves to.  There is a pretty good article on the various agencies the Chinese use to do maritime law enforcement missions here.

The other nations with the largest EEZs are Australia, France, Russia. Japan, with the 9th largest EEZ, has the largest fleet of cruising cutters in the world. China’s EEZ is 32nd in size.

Still I think the Chinese may be on to something in terms of justifying their fleet. Maybe we ought to do some sort of resource to area of responsibility comparison. We know that our EEZs in the Southwest Pacific and Arctic are under served.

More News From the North–An Armed Canadian Coast Guard?

Related Posts:

Ryan Erickson’s blog pointed out an article in the Vancouver Sun reporting that the Canadians are considering arming their icebreakers as a way to “bolster Arctic sovereignty.”

This was in response to “recommendations in a report from the Senate fisheries committee about strengthening Canada’s presence in the North.”

“The government also has indicated that it will review new shipping regulations in the Northwest Passage and other Arctic waters with an eye to extending mandatory registration of foreign vessels, which currently applies only to large freighters and other heavy ships, to all foreign-ship traffic in the region, regardless of size.”

Ryan links the report to the 1985 transit of the North West Passage by the Polar Sea, in which the USCG icebreaker transited what the Canadians consider their internal waters and what the US considers an international strait, after the US gave notification of our intention, rather than asking permission.

Since then, basically the US and the Canadians have agreed to disagree. Currently the US and Canada have an agreement that allows access to US military ships. They have given us blanket permission and we have said we will give notification.

For the US Navy this is a matter of avoiding a precedence that could close off access elsewhere.

For the Coast Guard, our interests are a little different, perhaps closer to that of the Canadians. We want Maritime Domain Awareness. We want ships to give notice of their intentions, and ultimately that has to mean we need some options to deny access, but the international norms are still being set.

The talk of arming Canadian icebreakers leads to the question, will the Canadian Coast Guard be transformed by it’s new mission to more closely parallel the military organization of the USCG. There has already been a question about whether the Canadian Navy or their Coast Guard would man the proposed Arctic Patrol Ship since they would be armed, unlike current Canadian cutters.

Denial of innocent passage–could this be a trend?

In a move to isolate the British on the Falklands (Malvinas), the Argentines are requiring vessels bound to or from the Falklands through their EEZ to obtain prior approval. Recently a Spanish vessel was denied the right of innocent passage from the waters off the Falklands to Uruguay, because they had not formally requested permission a week ahead as required by Argentina’s “decree 256.” Argentine restrictions are hurting businesses in both Uruguay and Chile (as well as Argentina).

As noted earlier, this is not the first incidence of a coastal state requiring notice of transit. The Canadians want vessels to ask permission to transit the North West Passage. The Chinese are claiming sovereignty over virtually all of the South China Sea, talking as if it were territorial sea. The Coast Guard initiated the Long Range Identification and Tracking (LRIT) and it is only useful if it covers ships transiting the EEZ as well as those going to US ports.

Perhaps it is inevitable that when a state assumes the authority to demand notification of passage though the EEZ, it will also occasionally exercise the “right” to deny passage, but this is the first time I have heard of it happening.

(In a related move, as a sign of solidarity with Argentina, Uruguay rescinded permission for a Montevideo port visit by a Royal Navy Destroyer en route to the Falklands only hours before its scheduled arrival.)

Ramblings on “Maritime Domain Awareness”

Some random thoughts on “Maritime Domain Awareness,” prompted by a Congressional mandate, Canada’s recent action regarding the North West Passage, and China’s “enforcement” of their EEZ.
“Maritime Domain Awareness.” It is a nice catch phrase, but where are we going with this? What is the objective? What level of detail is enough?

We want ships bound for US ports to report their intentions, what if they don’t? What’s the punishment? What about those that pass just outside our territorial sea, and might suddenly veer into a US port,  but aren’t required to check in? Are we being effective, or is this yet another attempt to be seen to be doing something, that is actually nothing more than an inconvenience to the law abiding mariners while making us no safer?
Having read Ryan’s article about the Coast Guard Authorization Act for Fiscal Years 2010 and 2011, this amendment caught my eye:

H.AMDT.472 to H.R.3619 Section 1332 -“Directs the Secretary to develop a comprehensive strategy to combat the illicit flow of narcotics, weapons, bulk cash, and other contraband through the use of submersible and semi-submersible vessels.”

My first reaction–I foolishly assumed that what was being mandated was a system that would have a high probability of detecting any submersible or semi-submersible approaching the US.

–I would love to see us have this capability.
–All our other “Maritime Domain Awareness” problems are likely to be solved by any system that could do this.
–Let’s see, we would need a field of acoustic sensors wrapped around the US coast line, and then we would need some visual way to identify the contacts picked up–we could probably use UAVs for that…

But then–Do they have any idea how incredibly hard this is? This may be harder than tracking Ballistic Missile submarines. The Navy with all their resources can’t do this. We can’t even monitor our land border. It could easily require the entire CG budget.

Maybe the Secretary’s plan ought to be to “let the Navy do it.”

My next thought–Even having read it, I don’t really know what it means. Looking at it again, are we talking about these craft coming into US waters? Or are we expected to stop this illegal traffic wherever it exists, if the fruits of the trade might end up in the US? It’s not specific. As I understand it, most of these semisubmersibles go to Mexico, not directly to the US.

And finally, what is the point, if we are not also monitoring every sail and motor boat who might also bring in “narcotics, weapons, bulk cash, and other contraband?”
Then the Canadian government put the world on notice that ships entering that country’s Arctic waters will be subject to new mandatory vessel-tracking rules aimed at preventing terrorist activity and pollution while improving search-and-rescue capabilities in the Far North. The Canadian plan requires mandatory registration for ships of 300 tonnes or more, for tugs with a two-ship weight of 500 tonnes or more and for any vessel carrying dangerous goods or potential pollutants. Read more here and here. For an overview of the Canadian position, link here.
Then there are the Chinese, whose interpretation of the Law of the Sea, seems very different from our own. They seem to view the EEZ as little different from their territorial sea–a bit of history. Very recently they objected to our exercising with South Korea in the Yellow Sea even though presumably the exercises would not have even entered their EEZ. The Chinese have also been harassing the Japanese Coast Guard in their own EEZ (more here and here). The US Naval Institute blog is discussing the latest flap between the US and China in an article entitled “Poking China in the Chest.” The Chinese have been making a lot of friends lately and they are a member of the security council, so don’t be surprised to see something like their view of the rights of coastal states being raised in the UN.
I think we are going to see more changes to the EEZ. I can see points like this being made:

–How can you argue with the desire to limit pollution and quickly respond to maritime disasters as the Canadians state they want to do?
–How can a state monitor the economic exploitation of their EEZ if they don’t know who is there? Is a requirement to report entry into the EEZ any different from requiring name, flag, and homeport be displayed?
How could anyone engaged in legitimate activity object?
–Isn’t preventing terrorism an element of managing economic resources within the EEZ? Can’t we say the same about preventing a Naval attack?

While the Navy will probably want none of this, as the Coast Guard, there might be elements worth considering here.


It would be nice to have a system that showed us everything within the EEZ, but it is unlikely we will see that anytime soon.

In addition to getting projected ETA at our ports, if we were prepared to accept, catalog, store, and redistribute the information to those who could use the information, it might be helpful to ask all vessels entering our EEZ to identify themselves, to help us classify the contacts we do detect, but under the present regime I don’t think we have any recourse, if those who claim to be in innocent passage refuse.

Short of a robust detection capability to find those not reporting, additional reporting may be only a paper exercise of little utility. If the detection capability were truly robust, we would not need reporting.

The weapons of mass destruction we worry about, as well as “narcotics, weapons, bulk cash, and other contraband,” are not limited to large ships or semisubmersibles. They can come in on boats that appear no different from the thousands of recreational boats that enter and leave our harbors every day.