President Obama last Thursday signed legislation reauthorizing programs for the Coast Guard to carry out its mission and Maritime Administration national security functions related to the merchant marine, while setting policy for other maritime issues.
The Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Act of 2012
authorizes the sea service to receive $8.6 billion in fiscal year 2013 and $8.7 billion in fiscal year 2014. Congress reversed the White House's proposal to trim the Coast Guard's acquisition budget and personnel, but institutes several administrative reforms and eliminates obsolete authorities to save money.
A provision designed to make life easier for dockworkers, truckers and others directs the Transportation Security Administration to change the Transportation Worker Identification Credential process so that someone can obtain the ID in one visit to the enrollment center instead of having to make multiple trips.
Section 304 specifies that the homeland security secretary verify that classification societies given permission to conduct sea-worthiness examinations of vessels be vetted by the State Department to make sure they don't provide similar services to a state sponsor of terrorism.
MarAd is also given authority to expand its Short-Sea Shipping program designed to take freight traffic off congested highways.
In addition, the law addresses the issue of piracy, which has become a particular problem for mariners in the Indian Ocean and Red Sea. It directs the Transportation Department to certify a training curriculum for U.S. mariners on the use of force against pirates including current threats, patterns of attack, defense tactics, rules of engagement for self-defense, and procedures to improve crew survivability, if captured or taken hostage by pirates.
Agencies that charter vessels to move supplies or commodities purchased, furnished or financed by the U.S. government are required to provide armed guards aboard U.S.-flagged vessels transiting high-risk waters and reimburse vessel owners or operators for the cost of the security detail. - Eric Kulisch