Aucoin: Port pushes safety with marine security

Published 12:02 am Wednesday, September 6, 2017

On Sept. 28, 2017, World Maritime Day will be celebrated around the globe, an observance that was created in 1978 by the United Nations via the International Maritime Organization to commemorate the contribution of maritime industry to the world’s economy.

World Maritime Day specifically spotlights the importance of shipping safety, the marine environment and maritime security. This year’s theme, “Connecting Ships, Ports and People,” encourages members to develop and implement strategies that address issues like transport navigational safety and maritime security.

We are all too aware that homeland security has been a top priority in the United States, particularly in the last 16 years.

Local, state and federal agencies, along with private organizations, have worked diligently to minimize physical and virtual vulnerabilities and threats.

Therein lies the mission of the Port of South Louisiana’s marine operations division: to prepare, warden, prevent and mitigate, respond and offer support in emergency situations in and around the Port of South Louisiana district.

Shortly after Hurricane Katrina, the Port of South Louisiana joined with Greater Baton Rouge, New Orleans, St. Bernard, and Plaquemines ports to establish a security network throughout the lower 255 miles of the Mississippi River, a port complex that handles nearly half of U.S. exports and one quarter of the nation’s petroleum imports.

Since then, with funding from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Port Security Grant Program, linked Maritime Security Operation Centers (MSOC) were established at the five ports, which created a network system that gives full maritime domain awareness over the Mississippi River and allows operations to migrate from one MSOC to another with minimal interruptions in security.

The Port of South Louisiana’s MSOC was established in 2013 to monitor all vessel traffic within the Port of South Louisiana. From within, staff can observe Mississippi River movement 24-hours a day, using the latest in communications and surveillance equipment, such as Command Bridge and MRTIS software as well as VHF radio. The MSOC also monitors police, fire and EMS for St. Charles, St. John the Baptist and St. James parishes and dispatches for the Pontchartrain Levee District and the Port’s maritime law enforcement officers.

Like the MSOC, marine operations’ waterborne division is also staffed around the clock, seven-days a week. The unit’s fleet, upon which the United States Coast Guard relies to be the first one on-scene for maritime incidents within the Port of South Louisiana’s jurisdiction, consists of four emergency vessels, which are stationed at Mile Post 138.3 Ahead of Passes (AHP).

The M/V John James Charles, the oldest in the fleet, is 80 feet in length with a 3,500 gallons-per-minute self-contained fire pump mounted on deck.

The PSV Accardo, acquired in 2005, is 49 feet in length with a 3,500 gallon-per-minute on-board fire pump.

The PSL Responder, procured in 2007, is 57 feet in length with on-board camera and audio devices for maritime surveillance and is also equipped with a 1,500 gallons-per-minute on-board fire pump.

The newest vessel (2016), the M/V Nathan Folse, is a 75-foot catamaran equipped with state-of-the-art fire-fighting equipment, 5,000 gallons-per-minute remote operated deck nozzles, communications equipment and a pressurized cabin to protect the crew from hazardous chemicals. The unit is also outfitted with a 23-foot Zodiac rapid response boat that is trailered and can be launched into local waterways for recovery and security operations.

Landside, the Port of South Louisiana employs one part-time and two full-time officers from St. John the Baptist Parish Sheriff’s Office and one part-time officer from St. Charles Parish Sheriff’s Office. In accordance with a cooperative endeavor agreement between the Port of South Louisiana and the respective Sheriff’s offices, these officers patrol the levees from St. Charles Parish to St. James Parish, canvasing the entire port district, responding to calls for assistance and monitoring the levees, docks and battures for suspicious activity. Narcotics and explosives detection K9s are also at the disposal of our police unit.

As the largest tonnage port in the Western Hemisphere, the Port of South Louisiana and its marine operations division will continue to diligently coordinate security strategies on water as well as on land and implement any necessary enhancements of security surveillance, threat detection and emergency preparedness.

After all, millions of tons of grain that feed the world and fuel that makes transportation possible pass through the Port of South Louisiana every year. The marine security force is whom we commemorate on World Maritime Day; their vigilance and efforts help keep commerce moving swiftly and smoothly.

Paul Aucoin is executive director of the Port of South Louisiana. For more information, call 985-652-9278.