Today, August 4th, 2015, is the 225th birthday of the United States Coast Guard (USCG). In 1790, President Washington authorized the construction of 10 revenue cutters, whose main duties would be the enforcement of the tariff laws established by Congress. This newly formed Revenue Cutter Service, along with 4 other Federal agencies (the Lighthouse Service, the Steamboat Inspection Service, the Bureau of Navigation, the Lifesaving Service) would serve as the foundation for the modern day Coast Guard. And 2015 also marks the centennial of the USCG service’s present name. 100 years ago, Ellsworth Bertholf was sworn in as the first commandant of the USCG.
The responsibilities of the Coast Guard have been both diverse and far reaching: Aids to Navigation, Law Enforcement, Military Readiness, Environmental Protection, Search and Rescue, and Preventative Safety.
Aids to Navigation (ATON)
One of the first tasks appointed to the Lighthouse Service was building and operating lighthouses and lightships along our coasts to guide mariners in and out of our harbors. Over 1,000 lighthouses were built as well as more than 120 lightship stations. However, with the emergence of new technologies, such as Global Positioning Systems (GPS), these lighthouses became obsolete. The USCG is still required to maintain other short-range aids to navigation, such as buoys and markers in our Nation’s harbors. As a response to the Maritime Transportation Security Act of 2002, the Nationwide Automatic Identification System (NAIS) was implemented. This program uses AIS data to digitally map out the maritime vessel traffic around the U.S.
Recently PortVision has partnered with Port Fourchon and the Coastal and Marine Operators (CAMO) organization to take aggressive steps to protect vessel operators from impacting a submerged pipelines. By utilizing a PHMSA grant our team was able to leverage the Automatic Identification System (AIS) currently already deployed on most commercially operated vessels, to provide vessel operators an “alert” if they appear to be stopping over a pipeline. This effort required acquiring approval from FCC and the U.S. Coast Guard resulting in The Greater Lafourche Port Commission being the first port to transmit an AIS safety message of this type.
The law enforcement duties of the USCG mostly consist of 3 parts: ensure tariffs are paid, protect ships from pirates and other unlawful interdiction, and intercept material and human contraband. Initially, the collection of tariffs was the number one priority of the Revenue Cutter Service. Our early government was in dire need of money. In the Revenue Cutter’s first 10 years of service, our nation’s imports and exports rose from $52 to $205 million. Today, the USCG has increased its emphasis on drug interception and combating the flow of illegal drugs into the United States.
The Revenue Cutter Service and the USCG have participated in or supported every major American military conflict since the Constitution became the law in 1789. Legislative acts in the late 1790’s gave the president power to mobilize the cutter fleet to aid in defending our coastal regions as well as direct them to “cooperate with the Navy of the United States, during which time they shall be under the direction of the Secretary of the Navy…”
In addition to supporting the Navy with men and cutters during wartime, the USCG has undertaken special missions, usually involving the capture of foreign vessels. On November 1, 1941, the Coast Guard was ordered to operate as part of the Navy and remained that way until Jan 1, 1946. During WWII, almost 2,000 USCG died, nearly one third of those in action. After the terrorist attacks of 9/11, President George W. Bush created the Department of Homeland Security. On February 23rd, 2003, the USCG ended its 36 year term as a member of the Department of Transportation and became a prominent member of the Department of Homeland Security.
The USCG has been helping to protect the environment since it was first tasked with protecting Federal forest reserves that provided specialized ship timber back in 1822. In the late 1800s, the service’s responsibilities expanded to protecting endangered resources such as fish, whales, and fur bearing marine animals. In 1924, Congress passed the Oil Pollution Act, which required the USCG to respond to the numerous oil spills occurring around the world. Some 56 years later, the Exxon Valdez Spill resulted in the passing of the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 and was the single largest law enforcement tasking of the USCG since Prohibition.
Today, the service continues to respond to oil and chemical spills, as well as protecting U.S. fisheries and monitoring airborne emissions by large marine vessels operating in U.S. waters.
Search and Rescue (SAR)
The Revenue Cutter Service has been assisting mariners with search and rescue (SAR) missions since 1790, but the core mission did not receive official sanction until 1837. In 1854, 220 lives were lost in maritime disasters that took place in New Jersey. The Act of Dec. 15, 1854 greatly expanded the federal government’s ability to support lifesaving efforts. In 1915, Congress passed legislation that merged the Revenue Cutter Service and Life-Saving Service and thus became the U.S. Coast Guard. Since then, the USCG has made tremendous advancements in life-saving technology, including developing the helicopter. When Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast, the USCG rescued over 33,500 people awaiting on rooftops and in flooded homes.
The first piece of legislation aimed at preventing disasters at sea was passed in 1837, after the steamboat Pulaski exploded in North Carolina, killing 100 people. This was the birth of the commercial vessel inspection. After more fatal disasters continued, Congress responded with the Steamboat Inspection Act of 1852. This act included federal licensing of mariners, engineers, and pilots of steamers carrying passengers. Today, licensing and certifying of U.S. maritime personnel is still one of the functions of the USCG.
The United States in an active member of the International Maritime Organization (IMO), which is a part of the United Nations. In 2002, IMO SOLAS Agreement mandated that required vessels over 300GT on international voyages to fit a Class A type AIS transceiver for collision avoidance for water transport. This development would lead to a need for business intelligence based on the AIS data and therefore result in the creation of our PortVision product!
Today, the USCG has 88,000 active duty, reserve, civilian and auxiliary members stationed all over the world. PortVision would like to thank all the men and women who are currently serving our country, as well as all of those who came before them. Semper Paratus!