Coast Guard Fleet Cuts Could Hurt Border Patrols

December 1st, 2006  
Team Infidel

Topic: Coast Guard Fleet Cuts Could Hurt Border Patrols

Wall Street Journal
December 1, 2006
Pg. 8

By Robert Block
KEY WEST, Fla. -- A decision to idle eight of the Coast Guard's 10 big patrol boats that protect Florida waters could weaken border-enforcement efforts in the Caribbean at a time when human smuggling here is on the rise.
U.S. Coast Guard Commandant Thad Allen yesterday announced that the Coast Guard was suspending the use of the eight Key West-based 123-foot cutters because of chronic hull cracking and other structural problems since the boats had about $100 million of renovations.
The decision was met with concern by other federal law-enforcement agencies and security experts, who fear that with the Coast Guard's biggest and most versatile vessels out of commission, drug traffickers and human smugglers might take advantage of the situation.
Human smuggling into Florida from Cuba, Haiti and the Dominican Republic already is at historic highs as professional smuggling rings have been using more powerful boats over the past few years. Coast Guard and Customs ships stopped more than 5,000 smuggler ships last year. Thousands of other boats, some carrying as many as 40 passengers, are believed to have made it ashore undetected.
"Bad guys will undoubtedly see this as an opportunity to do more day-to-day smuggling," said Stephen Flynn, a former Coast Guard Commander now at the Council on Foreign Relations.
Commandant Allen rejected the idea that retiring the cutters would weaken the country's ability to deal with a possible mass influx of Cubans trying to escape the island when its leader, Fidel Castro, who is believed to be gravely ill with cancer, dies. "There are contingency plans in place to bring on extra resources in the event of a mass migration," the Coast Guard commandant said in an interview yesterday.
He said he made his decision in consideration of the safety and well-being of Coast Guard personnel. The Coast Guard is exploring options to fill the void left by suspending the vessels, including possibly deploying more Coast Guard spotter planes in the region to thwart smugglers, he said. "Florida has one of the highest operational demands in the country because of the migration problem," he said. "We will find a way to fill the hole."
Calling the decision "bittersweet," Commandant Allen said the program that extended the cutters by 13 feet to make room for automated rear-boat launches and state-of-the-art communications and surveillance gear was "disappointing." The problem had reached the point where the boats were only able to operate in calm, flat waters or they would risk major structural damage.
Mr. Allen said the development wasn't a setback to the Coast Guard's $24 billion overall modernization program, called Deepwater. Deepwater aims to gradually replace or rebuild most of the Coast Guard's worn-out boats, airplanes and helicopters over the next 25 years, upgrading the fleet while keeping it operational. While the plan to refurbish the cutters proved flawed, "the basic idea of Deepwater remains sound," he said.

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