Engaging Commercial Industry to Improve Maritime Domain Awareness

Rob Almeida
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October 13, 2010

by Cesar Morales, Sr. MDA Analyst, and Rob Almeida, CMO – gCaptain.com

As young Ensigns fresh out of the Naval Academy, we received extensive training and were required to learn acute technical details of the warship we were assigned to.  Our responsibilities also included becoming a proficient ship operators, personnel managers, and working on various other collateral duties simultaneously.  Oddly enough, when it came to understanding the operations of the commercial vessels we passed by on a daily basis, our training could have been summed up in four words: “Just don’t hit them”.

On the 10th anniversary of the attack on the USS Cole, government bodies such as the Department of Defense, Department of Transportation, U.S. Coast Guard, Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI), Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and the National Maritime Intelligence Center (NMIC) are working together to help develop plans and policies that support the collation and processing of information relevant to the movement of personnel, goods, and ships through the maritime environment.  This effort is directed toward achieving a concept called “Maritime Domain Awareness”.

When it comes to the effective understanding of the maritime domain, it seems clear that the US government is somewhat lacking in their ability to develop plans and policy affecting an industry they have very little first-hand involvement in.  It’s a bit like a naval architect designing a ship without really understanding how a ship actually operates and is maintained at sea.

In the latest issue of the U.S. Coast Guard’s ‘Proceedings’ magazine, Captain Dale Ferrier (USCG ret), addresses this situation stating, “The dilemma is deciding how to partner with legitimate operators and gain insights with out demonstrating favoritism and creating an unfair market.”

The dilemma he refers to appears to be a question of corporate confidentiality…

Vessel movement data, the details of a ship’s cargo, and crew manifests are critical to gaining MDA, but does demanding that information from ship operators trigger a serious concern about corporate confidentiality?  If the answer is yes, how can we keep it confidential?

What are the major hurdles to information sharing between the commercial industry and governmental agencies?

Mitigating piracy, protecting national borders, ensuring free and fair trade, and fighting the movement of narcotics across the ocean are all benefits of maritime domain awareness.  Are there any commercial maritime concerns that need to be addressed?  Please discuss on the gCaptain Forum.

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