Proposed by Coast Guard Commandant Tom Collins and endorsed by Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge, the bill asks for an additional $4 billion in funding. The legislation has the backing of Sens. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine), chair of the Government Affairs Committee, and Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.), a ranking member. The Coast Guard proposal suggests that the acceleration of Deepwater will save $4 billion in the long run.
“Our nation’s ports and waterways remain dangerously vulnerable to attack,” the senators wrote in a March 12 letter to the Senate budget committee. “We understand the difficulties you face preparing a budget during these challenging economic times but believe that modernizing the Coast Guard fleet must be a top priority.”
Collins appeared before the Senate Appropriations Committee in early May and outlined the stresses on the Coast Guard’s already thinly stretched resources.
He told the committee, “A convergence of several significant internal and external factors has emphasized the need for a continuing increase in capacity and capability for the U.S. Coast Guard to meet America’s future maritime needs: The move of the Coast Guard to the Department of Homeland Security; the need to increase Maritime Homeland Security capability and capacity; the need to sustain our performance across all Coast Guard missions; and the requirement to quickly implement the comprehensive requirements of the Maritime Transportation Security Act of 2002.”
Collins, who said the Coast Guard’s budget has been augmented since Sept. 11, 2001, by emergency funding, is suffering from the increased pressure on maritime security. “The Coast Guard established new port security zones, placed sea marshals on inbound merchant ships, conducted additional patrols off the coasts, established maritime safety and security teams to protect major ports and implemented new procedures to monitor vessel and crew movements within ports and coastal approaches. These increased responsibilities stretched already thin resources nearly to the breaking point and made it extremely difficult to continue serving other missions.”
Deepwater calls for a complete overhaul of the Coast Guard’s aging fleet of ships, including the addition of several new designs. Deepwater has already begun the modernization process. In February the first 110-foot patrol boat, Matagorda, entered Bollinger Shipyards in Lockport, La., to begin the modernization process.