Coast Guard letter to ships, ports defines access etiquette
The U.S. Coast Guard has prepared 'a generic letter' commencing 'Dear Mr. ' ' to express its policy regarding 'access by law enforcement personnel to commercial ships and facilities.'
'The intent of this letter is two-fold: first to clarify procedures that will be followed by all Coast Guard personnel as they access foreign-flag vessels and second, to detail potential actions if properly identified Coast Guard personnel are denied access to a vessel or facility,' the Coast Guard said in a statement.
The need for the letter came about because, 'as vessels have begun to exercise elements of their security plans as required by the U.S. Maritime Transportation Security Act (MTSA) and the International Ship and Port Facility Security (ISPS) Code, certain conflicts have arisen with law enforcement access protocols,' the Coast Guard explained.
The letter noted that Coast Guard officials attempting to access a commercial vessel or facility will verbally provide their name and organizational affiliation, present an official government-issued ID card at each security checkpoint, sign a visitors' log and provide an office contact number if requested, and accept an escort around the ship or facility, if requested.
However, 'properly identified law enforcement officials on official business cannot and will not surrender their government-issued ID cards or firearms,' the Coast Guard said. Such officials are also exempt from, and will not consent to, baggage or vehicle searches.
Coast Guard officers boarding ships or entering port facilities have the right to access without delay or obstruction, and also have the right 'to use reasonable force to compel compliance with lawful orders, including orders to permit access,' the Coast Guard said.
Vessels or port facilities denying access will be subject to 'swift and decisive actions,' including 'operational controls, civil penalties, and potential criminal sanctions.'
'We recognize that, as we work our way through this initial implementation period for the MTSA and ISPS security requirements, issues will arise that neither security plans nor administration policies have addressed. The Coast Guard will not be taking immediate action against vessels in circumstances where the vessel security plan conflicts with law enforcement procedures, but we will be recommending that the approved security plan be amended to address proper procedures for dealing with law enforcement officials,' the letter concluded.
The letter was signed by Rear Admiral L.L. Hereth, the Coast Guard's director, port security.