A tunnel inside the Red Hill Underground Fuel Storage Facility at Pearl Harbor, Jan. 26, 2018. U.S. Navy Photo

U.S. Maritime Industry’s Expanded Reach is Not Without its Risks  

Ira Breskin
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October 7, 2022

By Ira Breskin

NEW YORK— Recognizing potential risks attached to the US maritime industry’s expanded reach was the theme of the Navy League’s inaugural Maritime Security Conference held here Thursday. 

Wider geographic presence, for example, translates into increased US Coast Guard operations far beyond heavily-traveled domestic waters, said Admiral Linda Fagan, USCG Commandant  

“We are an Arctic national. We are a Pacific nation.” 

The goal is to ensure “free and open access and lawful pursuit of natural resources,” Fagan said.  “We are a global coast guard,” she added at the event, hosted by the Navy League’s New York Council. 

For example, Coast Guard Cutter Healy earlier this month reached the North Pole, after traversing the frozen Arctic Ocean. This is the second time that a US ship has visited the pole unaccompanied; Healy first did so in 2015. 

Moreover, USCG is more actively policing IUU (Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated) fishing in the east Pacific and Caribbean, Fagan said. 

Admiral James Foggo USN (Ret.) emphasized the critical role that the US merchant marine plays when providing vital sealift capacity to support American armed forces deployed worldwide. 

“Logistics is the sixth domain of warfare,” he said. This requires the efforts of “civilian mariners who experience their tradecraft at sea.”   

Several speakers suggested initiatives that the Pentagon should consider to ensure that Navy vessels operating in the Pacific continue receiving requisite bunker fuel. The review is more imperative given the planned shutdown by next spring of the Navy’s Red Hill Bunker Fuel Storage Facility in Hawaii. 

Despite challenges that closing Red Hill may create, it provides at least one benefit. It forces the Navy to use a more distributed, less vulnerable fuel supply network and “eliminates a single point of failure” Admiral Foggo said. 

The Defense Department is closing the Red Hill, which has 250 million gallon storage capacity, to address environmental issues attached to leaking tanks. 

To mitigate any potential fuel supply shortfall, Congress could increase the number of vessels enrolled in the recently established Tanker Security Program (TSP), Tim Walton said. He is a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute’s Center for Defense Concepts and Technology in Washington D.C. 

Through TSP, the government will pay $6 million a year for the option to charter each of the 10 US-flagged TSP tankers enlisted to provide supplemental sealift capacity. Under TSP, the government can charter these vessels, at market rates, to supplement the tonnage delivered by about 10 government-owned tankers. 

Moreover, Washington could require that additional government-purchased fuel, or “preference cargo,” be carried by TSP ships, in order provide them increased, guaranteed revenue, Walton said. 

On the domestic security front, US Customs and Border Protection is more “intel driven,” rather than transaction-based, when providing security at nation’s marine terminals, said Edward Fox, the agency’s assistant director for the Port of New York and New Jersey. 

To do so, it is tapping into intelligence shared by sister federal agencies when addressing major areas of concern: importation of illegal narcotics, terrorist threats and financial fraud, Fox said. 

Ira Breskin is a senior lecturer at State University of New York Maritime College in the Bronx, NY and author of The Business of Shipping (9th edition, 2018), a primer that explains shipping economics, operations and regulations.

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