May 12, 2016
Together with our Community Partner, the American Chamber of Commerce, the Navy League welcomed Captain Lee Boone to give a seminar on the ‘U.S. Coast Guard Security Interests & Activities in the Asia Pacific.’ The presentation included a fun period of networking, in which we had the opportunity to get to know Capt. Boone and hear some of his stories from his time stationed in Japan. Lunch was provided, and we enjoyed an interactive environment, where we could openly ask questions and discuss issues with Capt. Boone. His insights, from the perspective of the U.S. Coast Guard, were refreshing and thought-provoking.
In his presentation, Capt. Boone began with a history of the U.S. Coast Guard, emphasizing its distinction from the U.S. Navy and outlining its evolving functions. While the U.S. Coast Guard is traditionally thought to be a domestic, coastal force, it has a growing and important presence in Asia Pacific. In Japan, Capt. Boone works with 17 members of the U.S. Coast Guard. There are an additional 9 members in Singapore. These few people cover an estimated 43% of the world’s longitude, an area stretching from Madagascar to the Polynesian Islands. What are they doing here, in Asia Pacific, a region that already has the most forward deployed naval vessels?
Post 9/11, the U.S. Coast Guard created the International Port Security (IPS) initiative, which assesses the effectiveness of port security and antiterrorism measures in international ports across the globe. In Asia Pacific, this includes 42 nations. They are responsible for monitoring these standards and providing updated information for Homeland Security. In addition, for developing countries, the U.S. Coast Guard provides advice and capacity building options to help local governments and communities meet these standards of compliance.
While it may seem that the U.S. Coast Guard is only engaging in humanitarian aims, their job is more about protecting the U.S. than it is about benefiting other countries. The goal is to increase global security to the point that the U.S. does not have to fight fires on its own shores. It is far better for a local port authority to catch potentially hazardous cargo or a hostile person before a ship leaves for the U.S. than for the U.S. to have to find out about the threat when the ship has already come into its domestic ports. Of course, it is also a benefit to the local governments to receive help from the U.S. Coast Guard in reaching international port security compliance standards. In this way, the Coast Guard is able to be a unique diplomatic bridge and provide reciprocal benefits to developed countries.
One of the biggest threats to port security and commercial transit of vessels through international waters is piracy. This also falls within the responsibility of the U.S. Coast Guard. The incident with the MV Maersk Alabama in 2008, which inspired the 2013 film Captain Phillips, was a wake-up call to the international commercial shipping industry. Through influencing new international norms and creating U.S. standards of compliance, the Coast Guard has helped prevent this from happening again.
Their work is paying off. Capt. Boone says that since late 2015, there has been a steep drop in piracy incidents in Asia Pacific. He attributes this to two main factors: the first is a higher level of compliance with new international security norms for commercial vessels, as well as as increase of traffic in international waters; and the second is the lowered price of oil, which is a highly coveted cargo for pirates. To read more about the state of piracy, Capt. Boone recommends looking into Oceans Beyond Piracy.
The U.S. Coast Guard contingent of Asia Pacific is stationed on the Yakota Air Base, which is situated north of Tokyo, Japan. Capt. Boone and his family have been there for about a year and will remain for a total of three years before moving on to the next posting. Capt. Boone is a highly educated and decorated officer in the U.S. Coast Guard. In 2008, he was assigned to Coast Guard Headquarters to lead the implementation of the Coast Guard’s counter-piracy program for U.S. commercial vessels transiting high risk waters. His work on this project was paramount in shaping what would become an international standard. To read more about Captain Lee Boone, check out his bio.