Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Coast Guard Seeks Uniformity in Passenger Screening at Cruise Ship Terminals, Discusses Use of Explosives Detection Dogs

The Coast Guard is proposing to amend its regulations on cruise ship terminal security. Transferred to the Department of Homeland Security in 2003, the Coast Guard wants to “standardize security of cruise ship terminals and eliminate redundancies in the regulations that govern the security of cruise ship terminals.” It would have been helpful if the problematic "redundancies" had been further explained. 

Some of the proposals concern the use of dogs for screening passengers and luggage, something that the Coast Guard acknowledges is not being done uniformly at cruise terminals.  The preamble to the proposed rules states that “most terminals use metal detectors and x-ray systems.  Some terminals use canines and other terminals, normally ports of call, screen by hand.”  Screening by hand involves manually searching baggage and personal effects.

National Maritime Security Advisory Committee

In proposing new regulations, the Coast Guard relied heavily on advice from the National Maritime Security Advisory Committee (NMSAC), a committee “composed of representatives from a cross-section of maritime industries and port and waterway stakeholders including, but not limited to, shippers, carriers, port authorities, and facility operators.”  This committee makes recommendations to the Secretary of Homeland Security through the Commandant of the Coast Guard on matters affecting maritime security.  The current Commandant is Admiral Paul F. Zukunft. 

Use of Canines for Screening

NMSAC does not feel that dogs should necessarily be used at all terminals because “each terminal operation, passenger ship, threat information, and security operation is different, a ‘one size fits all’ regulation to meet the ‘when’ and ‘how’ of canine use will not work.”  Before a decision on the use of dogs is appropriate for a specific terminal, NMSAC believes three issues must be addressed:
  1. When should canines be utilized for screening?
  2. How should canines be used for screening?
  3. What should be the training and certification requirements for the canine and the handler?
The Coast Guard states that it does “not propose mandating the use of canines for normal screening operations.”  Nevertheless, if terminals or cruise ships voluntarily use dogs to screen for explosives, the Coast Guard sees a need to establish standards, and states that it “is engaged in separate, ongoing projects to address the use of canines at maritime facilities, including cruise ship and other passenger facilities.”

The preamble to the proposal states that “cruise ship industry canine security representatives have been meeting with USCG and DHS officials to discuss appropriate regulatory requirements for the certification of both dog and handlers.”  NMSAC acknowledges its lack of expertise in this area and “therefore declines to offer recommendations in this regard.”  It appears that this committee could use a member or two with expertise in bomb dog deployment. 

The only references to canines in the proposed regulations (as opposed to the preamble) occurs in the definition of Explosives Detection System (EDS), which “means any system, including canines, automated device, or combination of devices that have the ability to detect explosive material.”

Prohibited Items List

The Coast Guard wants to create a Prohibited Items List to be used in screening persons, baggage, and personal effects at a terminal.  A list of dangerous substances is also being created.  TSA has issued such lists for airline travel, but the preamble notes that there are necessarily differences between cruise ships and airplanes:

"Whereas airline screening can be conducted with the understanding that airline travel is undertaken for only a relatively short period of time and with a focused mission, cruise travel can be for much longer periods of time and with travelers participating in varying activities. Additionally, there is no distinction in cruise travel between checked baggage or carry-on items, since passengers and crew will have access to their personal items once they are onboard."

The proposed Prohibited Items List for cruise ship terminals is as follows:

Weapons, Including
  • Hand Guns (including BB guns, pellet guns, compressed air guns and starter pistols, as well as ammunition and gunpowder)
  • Rifles/shotguns (including BB guns, pellet guns, compressed air guns and starter pistols, as well as ammunition and gunpowder)
  • Stun guns or other shocking devices (e.g. TaserR, cattle prod)
  • Realistic replicas and/or parts of guns and firearms
Explosives, Including
  • Blasting caps
  • Dynamite
  • Fireworks or pyrotechnics
  • Flares in any form
  • Hand grenades
  • Plastic explosives
  • Explosive devices
  • Realistic replicas of explosives
Incendiaries, Including
  • Aerosols (including spray paint but excluding items for personal care or toiletries in limited quantities)
  • Gasoline or other such fuels or accelerants
  • Gas torches
  • Lighter fluids (except in liquefied gas (e.g. BicR-type) or absorbed liquid (e.g. ZippoR-type) lighters in quantities appropriate for personal use)
  • Turpentine
  • Paint thinner
  • Realistic replicas of incendiaries
Disabling Chemicals and Other Dangerous Items, Including
  • Chlorine
  • Liquid bleach
  • Tear gas and other self-defense sprays
Such items can be confiscated and destroyed. It is perhaps worth noting that, although this list might be an occasional inconvenience to passengers who like to keep a supply of turpentine with them at all times, it is not likely to stop sophisticated terrorists from finding ways to get explosives aboard.  An easy example is triacetone triperoxide (TATP), used by the “shoe bomber,” an explosive that can be manufactured from commercially available products (e.g., nail polish remover and peroxide).  A passenger can easily justify such items as needed for pretty fingernails and white teeth, but a group of ten people could bring enough of these items aboard without suspicion and thereafter assemble a bomb.  Dogs could, of course, be taught to alert to such items, at least identifying passengers who could be interviewed more thoroughly, but it is not clear that anything like this is planned. 

Opportunity to Comment

We have spoken before about the turf wars between federal agencies on how to train explosives detection dogs. Most agencies have made decisions on how and when to use such dogs without seeking any comment from the public, and perhaps without seeking any comment from other agencies engaged in the same activities.  The Coast Guard is to be commended for trying to get as much input in this area as possible, and entities, both public and private, engaged in the training of explosives detection dogs should consider sharing the benefit of their experience.  

Comments on the proposed rules may most easily be submitted at the website (keywords: consolidated cruise ship security).  At the moment, the Coast Guard does not plan to hold a public meeting on the proposal.  Comments are to be submitted by March 10, 2015.   


TSA Layers of Aviation Security (GAO-11-938T, September 2011)
This notice demonstrates that cruise ship security precautions are in a much more formative stage than airline security precautions, with fewer requirements and less specificity regarding the use of dogs than has been the case with the Transportation Security Administration.  There appears to be little evidence of the kind of layered approach that the TSA has developed towards screening, as visually depicted here in a graphic taken from a 2011 GAO report on aviation security.  (Does the Coast Guard see this approach as a "redundancy"?) 

Although ships can carry more people than planes, for much longer periods of time, with multiple points of embarkation in many locations, the cruise industry has been far less of a target for terrorists than the airline industry. Perhaps Al Qaeda did not want to follow in the path of the Palestine Liberation Front in the 1987 hijacking of the Achille Lauro, and aside from some recent controversy about an opera, that incident may be to many security specialists only a distant memory.

Given that this release is being issued by both the Coast Guard and the Department of Homeland Security, it appears that DHS is not requiring that the Coast Guard follow the lead of TSA, but is allowing it to engage in “separate, ongoing projects to address the use of canines at maritime facilities, including cruise ship and other passenger facilities.”  This may not indicate any no-confidence position as to the TSA, but may mean instead that DHS sees cruise environments as sufficiently different from airport and airplane environments that the Coast Guard will be allowed to develop its own approaches to canine training, handling, and deployment.  It could also mean that DHS is willing to accept input from other federal agencies and non-governmental organizations.  A public meeting on the proposal would likely reveal more, but at the moment none is anticipated. It is to be hoped that the Coast Guard is not planning to become yet another fiefdom in the federal bomb dog turf wars. 

Department of Homeland Security, Coast Guard.  Consolidated Cruise Ship Security Regulations: Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, RIN 1625-AB30, 79 Fed. Reg.73255 (December 10, 2014).  

This blog was written by John Ensminger and L.E. Papet.