April 11, 2014






Coast Guard, RCMP agree to joint patrols
by Edward French


     A new agreement between the U.S. and Canada will allow the U.S. Coast Guard and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police to jointly carry out law enforcement operations in the St. Croix River and the Bay of Fundy. The agreement was signed on April 8 at Coast Guard Station Eastport by U.S. Coast Guard Rear Admiral Dan Abel, commander of the U.S. 1st Coast Guard District, and Assistant Commissioner Roger Brown, commanding officer of the RCMP J Division.
     "Shiprider will provide both the U.S. Coast Guard and RCMP the opportunity to increase our presence on the water," said Brown. "This will exponentially increase the law enforcement capabilities with minimal impact to budgets or manpower."
     "This program allows the Coast Guard to work closely with the RCMP to protect our mutual border," said Abel. "Through this partnership we are better able to protect the citizens of both the U.S. and Canada from crossborder crime."
     Last year, boarding officers from Station Eastport and the RCMP J Division conducted five patrols, querying 43 vessels, which resulted in 18 boardings in the waters of the St. Croix River and Passamaquoddy Bay region. This initial program laid the foundation for the regional standard operating procedure between the U.S. 1st Coast Guard District and the RCMP J Division. During the signing ceremony, BM2 Noah Rowland of Coast Guard Station Eastport and Staff Sgt. Alain Lang of the RCMP were recognized for heading up the team that conducted the pilot program.
     In 2009, the U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security and the Canadian Minister of Public Safety signed a framework agreement on maritime law enforcement operations between the U.S. and Canada that allows the U.S. Coast Guard and the RCMP to work side by side enforcing laws in U.S. and Canadian waters. The agreement signed in Eastport is the Eastern Region International CrossBorder Maritime Law Enforcement Operations, also known as Shiprider, standard operating procedures. Shiprider agreements have already been implemented on the Great Lakes and the West Coast.
     All U.S. and Canadian officers designated as Shipriderqualified receive binational U.S. and Canadian enforcement training at the U.S. Coast Guard's Maritime Law Enforcement Academy in South Carolina.
     Brown says the agreement allows the Coast Guard and RCMP to work together without any barriers and also to share intelligence. He noted that partnerships "get us to a door," but relationships that are built among people "get us around a table." He added, "Look how much stronger we are" when relationships are built on trust. He pointed out that the U.S. and Canada "have a common goal ( to make our respective countries safer." )
     Noting that the agreement will formally link the two countries in maritime bi-national law enforcement operations, Abel said the border had created a wedge between the two nations but will no longer do so. RCMP officers and coastguardsmen will learn the laws of each other's nation and conduct joint operations, so that "we, Mounties and Coasties, stay on the watch."
     Brown says that criminals will "seek to exploit weaknesses in the borders," but those weaknesses will now no longer be there. Criminal activities that will be targeted will include smuggling of goods or humans and possibly terrorist activities. Concerning the level of crime that may be occurring, Brown states that unguarded areas provide an opportunity for criminals, and "we have an obligation to deal with that." He says that there are areas of the coast where the Queen Mary could come in and no one would see it.
     Under the agreement, U.S. Coast Guard boats would no longer have to stop at the border if they were pursuing a vessel. However, the agreement does not provide for the Coast Guard to carry out armed patrols in Canadian waters.
     Brown says the agreement allows the RCMP and Coast Guard to take enforcement action against "that which is patently illegal in both countries." The law enforcement vessels will conduct random boardings, and people on any vessel that is stopped "have to live up to obligations" and be following the laws, Abel says.
     The intent of the agreement is "to deal with the criminal element," says Brown, and not to place a limitation on cross-border traffic. The RCMP and Coast Guard will not be looking at territorial disputes, such as the Grey Zone around Machias Seal Island, or seeking to stop vessels under innocent passage through Canadian waters to reach the U.S. waters around Eastport and Passamaquoddy Bay. While the U.S. government's position is that vessels have a non-suspendable right of innocent passage through Head Harbour Passage, the Canadian government maintains that the waters are internal Canadian waters over which it has control. The dispute has flared up during debates over the Pittston oil refinery proposal for Eastport and the liquefied natural gas (LNG) proposals for Passamaquoddy Bay.
     Save Passamaquoddy Bay has already called on Canada to publicly announce that it will not cooperate in the Shiprider program related to LNG ships potentially going through Head Harbour Passage to the proposed Downeast LNG terminal in Robbinston.
     Brown and Abel expect that court cases may develop in which questions over legal issues arise from law enforcement actions taken under the agreement.

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