Coast Guard wants help fighting terrorism

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America’s Waterway Watch recruits the country’s 70 million boaters for Homeland Security

America’s Waterway Watch recruits the country’s 70 million boaters for Homeland Security

Coast Guard officials are again asking recreational boaters to be on the lookout this season for suspicious activities on their local waterways.

Largely in response to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the Coast Guard developed a national awareness program called America’s Waterway Watch. Under the program, which kicked off in February 2005, boaters and anyone who spends time near the water are asked to be aware of any activity that might indicate a terrorist threat.

“We’re considering this the premiere outreach program for recreational boaters,” says Coast Guard Chief Petty Officer Penny Collins, who helped develop the program. “We think this is very straightforward. The program has helped more and more people become more aware of their surroundings while on the water.”

With 95,000 miles of shoreline to protect, the Coast Guard says it can’t spot every possible threat and is hoping to tap the 70 million U.S. recreational boaters for help. Boaters, marina operators, bridge tenders, towboat skippers and commercial fishermen all are urged to report any suspicious activities to the National Response Center’s Hotline at (877) 249-2824. For immediate danger to life and property, boaters should dial 911.

The Waterway Watch program was launched as an umbrella program to bring together some 35 similar programs already in place at several local Coast Guard units around the country, Collins says. Calls from mariners led to several arrests, including arrests of drug traffickers and boaters smuggling illegal aliens.

“[Coast Guard] headquarters wanted to consolidate the individual programs,” Collins says. “They wanted to make sure that we all have the same information and that that is what is presented to the public.”

Suspicious activities to watch for include people taking photographs or making sketches, unattended vessels in unusual locations, lights flashing between boats, transfers of people between ships, people attempting to buy or rent vessels with cash for short-term and undefined use, and anyone operating in an aggressive manner. The Coast Guard says sensitive areas include tunnels and bridges, and near commercial vessels, industrial facilities, and military vessels and bases. Officials urge boaters not to become involved themselves if they do spot suspicious activity.

For informational brochures, America’s Waterway Watch boat decals and wallet cards, call (202) 267-0724 or visit www.americaswaterwaywatch.org .