- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 25, 2002

ABOARD THE USS TYPHOON The six men in blue uniforms strapped on bulletproof vests and loaded 9 mm Berettas. They piled into a rigid-hulled inflatable boat with two 60-horsepower engines and shoved off from a 170-foot Navy patrol cruiser.
Members of a Navy crew kept stations at machine guns, grenade launchers and a 25 mm cannon, ready to protect the Coast Guard crew on the rig, if needed, as they bounced over waves and sped toward their target.
This isn't the Persian Gulf it's the Chesapeake Bay. And this is not a war exercise but a scene repeated regularly by the Coast Guard as it girds for possible terrorist attacks.
The six-man Coast Guard crew climbed a rope ladder to the deck of the Kara Sea, a 608-foot tanker carrying gasoline from Baltimore to a Hess terminal in Chesapeake, Va. Ships such as this one pass through the Bay every day en route to Baltimore and Norfolk, two of the busiest ports on the East Coast.
The terrorists behind the September 11 attacks found ways to convert another everyday event an airline flight of civilian passengers into a catastrophe. The Coast Guard worries that a ship filled with explosive materials, such as the Kara Sea, could be used as a deadly weapon.
The primary role of the Coast Guard always has been that of America's maritime guardian, rescuing distressed ships and boaters and preventing contraband such as drugs from entering the country. But under a proposal by President Bush, the Coast Guard would be absorbed into a newly created Homeland Security Department.
Four 100-person units specifically for port and harbor security already have been created, with another two coming next summer as the Coast Guard expands its mission, said Senior Chief Petty Officer Carolyn Cihelka, a spokeswoman for the Coast Guard Atlantic Area, based in Portsmouth, Va.
"The way we're looking at it right now is we safeguard life, property and critical infrastructure at sea and in all navigable U.S. ports and waterways," she said. "Whether that means responding to a terrorist threat or an urgent search and rescue case, that's our No. 1 mission."
In the days following September 11, she conceded, there was a dramatic decrease in the Coast Guard's ability to conduct its traditional missions. Cutters that normally plied the Caribbean looking for drug smugglers were repositioned off the U.S. coast.
Now, the Coast Guard is learning to do it all with some help. For example, the USS Typhoon recently had carried Navy SEALs on missions throughout the Seven Seas. Now it's one of a dozen patrol-class vessels flying a Coast Guard flag and aiding boarding teams on both coasts and the Gulf of Mexico.
"We're stepping up our patrol to free them up to do that search and rescue," said Navy Lt. Robert Massaro, the captain of the Typhoon.
The Navy patrol craft are suited for the duty, he said. They're fast capable of 30 or more knots and well-armed.
"We have enough firepower for anything conceivable that could threaten these vessels," Lt. Massaro said, referring to the nearby tanker as the Typhoon escorted it into port.
None of the Typhoon's 28 crewmen is allowed on the Kara Sea, however. If Navy personnel boarded a foreign-registered ship, it could be considered an act of war. As a law enforcement agency, however, the Coast Guard can visit the ship with the permission of the ship's captain.
On board the tanker, the Coast Guard team members are armed with guns, pepper spray and batons in case anything goes wrong during their hourlong sweep. They check passports of the crew and look for anything that may be a security concern.

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide