Cyber Hack: Fortifying Maritime, Port Security

Andrew Kinsey

The United States Coast Guard Marine Safety Alert 06-19 (USCG MSA 06-19) outlines a February 2019 incident aboard a deep draft commercial vessel that called on the Port of New York / New Jersey after experiencing a significant cyber incident that impacted their shipboard network. 

The Safety Alert stated in part:
“An interagency team of cyber experts, led by the Coast Guard, responded and conducted an analysis of the vessel’s network and essential control systems. The team concluded that although the malware significantly degraded the functionality of the onboard computer system, essential vessel control systems had not been impacted. Nevertheless, the interagency response found that the vessel was operating without effective cybersecurity measures in place, exposing critical vessel control systems to significant vulnerabilities.”

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US Coast Guard interdicts $165 million in cocaine

JACKSONVILLE— The Coast Guard Cutter Valiant crew intercepted a drug-laden, 40-foot self-propelled semi-submersible (SPSS) in the Eastern Pacific. 

While on routine patrol in the Eastern Pacific, Valiant’s crew interdicted a self-propelled semi-submersible in international waters carrying approximately 12,000 pounds of cocaine, worth over $165 million and apprehended four suspected drug smugglers.

The semi-submersible was originally detected and monitored by maritime patrol aircraft (MPA), and the Valiant crew was diverted by Joint Interagency Task Force South (JIATF-S) to interdict the semi-submersible, arriving after sunset. The Valiant crew launched two small boats with boarding teams made up of Valiant crew and two members of the Coast Guard Pacific Tactical Law Enforcement Team, successfully interdicting the semi-submersible in the early morning hours, who subsequently led and conducted a full law enforcement boarding with the assistance of Colombian Naval assets that arrived on scene shortly after.

Approximately over 1,100 pounds of cocaine were recovered and offloaded to the Valiant during the operations. The remaining cocaine on the semi-submersible could not be safely extracted due to stability concerns of the vessel. The joint boarding successfully stopped a drug smuggling vessel and also strengthened international relations and communications between the two partner nations.

According to Valiant’s commanding officer, the interdiction coincided with a time-honored mariner’s milestone and tradition of crossing the equator which made both events even more meaningful part of the ship’s patrol.

“There are no words to describe the feeling Valiant crew is experiencing right now,” said Cmdr. Matthew Waldron, Valiant’s Commanding Officer. “In a 24-hour period, the crew both crossed the equator and intercepted a drug-laden self-propelled semi-submersible vessel. Each in and of themselves is momentous events in any cutterman’s career. Taken together, however, it is truly remarkably unprecedented This interdiction was an all-hands-on-deck evolution, and each crew member performed above and beyond the call of duty. Additionally, we could not have successfully completed this interdiction without the love and support of our families back home, many of whom evacuated from Jacksonville this week for Hurricane Dorian. To the Valiant families, a heartfelt ‘Thank You!’”

The Valiant is a multi-mission 210-foot Medium-Endurance Cutter commissioned in 1967. Missions include search and rescue, maritime law enforcement, marine environmental protection, homeland security, and national defense operations.


Coast Guard Warns Shipping Firms of Maritime Cyberattacks

Robert Lemos

A commercial vessel suffered a significant malware attack in February, prompting the US Coast Guard to issues an advisory to all shipping companies: Here be malware.

In February 2019, a large ship bound for New York City radioed the US Coast Guard warning that the vessel was “experiencing a significant cyber incident impacting their shipboard network.” 

The Coast Guard led an incident-response team to investigate the issue and found that malware had infected the ships systems and significantly degraded functionality. Fortunately, essential systems for the control of the vessel were unimpeded.

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IMO urged to act on GNSS jamming

by Martyn Wingrove

The US Coast Guard was urged to raise the issue of interference with key shipping positioning signals at the IMO Council this month

IMO will be urged to act to prevent deliberate interference of satellite signals vital to ship navigation. Jamming and spoofing Global Navigation Satellite Systems (GNSS) signals has a detrimental impact on ship navigational safety.

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US Coast Guard ship arrives in PH to boost both nations’ maritime security capabilities

By Betheena Kae Unite 

An American vessel that will conduct several exercises and improve the maritime security capabilities of the United States Coast Guard and the Philippines’ arrived in Manila Wednesday.

The United States Coast Guard National Security Cutter Bertholf, with its commanding officer Captain John Discroll, arrived at Pier 15 in Manila, following the capability training exercise conducted by both nations’ Coast Guard in the West Philippine Sea Tuesday.

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The U.S. Coast Guard’s Mission to Africa

By: Ben Werner

U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Thetis (WMEC-910) is halfway through a 90-day mission to Africa’s Atlantic coast and already the crew has helped enforce fishing rights, combat smuggling and piracy and rescue two fishermen who had been declared dead.

Operating off the coast of Africa is not the typical patrol route for a U.S. Coast Guard cutter, but the mission is the same, Cmdr. Randall Chong, commanding officer of Thetis, told USNI News during a recent satellite call from the ship. Thetis is assisting partner nations in better understanding the seas off their shores and helping secure their national interests while preventing regional problems from growing into more significant issues that could reach U.S. borders.

“Last month we were operating off the coast of Sierra Leone and one of my young lookouts, she saw a guy waiving, two guys waiving their life jackets,” Chong said. “They had no food, no water; they were actually starting to drink some sea water. We escorted them back to Sierra Leone and when we brought them back, we were told by their government they were declared dead two days before that.”

The scenario is relatively common among the fishing fleet, Chong said. Fishermen head out to sea on 22-foot boats, powered by old outboard motors and without navigation aids or communication links to shore. Sierra Leone also doesn’t have the resources to mount considerable search efforts at sea.

Thetis, a 270-foot Famous-class medium endurance cutter based in Key West, Fla., is made for finding small ships at sea. The cutter and crew specialize in maritime law enforcement operations such as counternarcotics and human smuggling missions. Their three-month deployment to Africa’s Gulf of Guinea region is intended to share their expertise with African maritime nations.

“The Coast Guard is a unique fit for this type of mission with our law enforcement authorities and our competencies,” Lt. David Zwirblis, operations officer on Thetis, told USNI News. “That’s really what these nations are looking for; they’re trying to secure their maritime domains. That’s what their navies are doing. Their economies are really intertwined with the maritime security of the region.”

Mission to Africa

Thetis departed Key West for Africa in late February, making it the first Coast Guard cutter to deploy in support of U.S Africa Command since 2012 and the first to participate in an African maritime exercise since 2011, according to Coast Guard news releases. Thetis participated in exercise Obangame Express and made port calls in Nigeria, São Tome and Principe and Cote d’Ivoire, among other work during the deployment.

U.S. military engagement with African nations is critical to protecting U.S. interests and helping stabilize governments on the continent, Adm. James Foggo, the commander of U.S. Forces Africa, explained during a recent edition of his podcast.

Having the U.S. Coast Guard deploy to Africa is useful, Foggo said, because the U.S. Coast Guard’s maritime law enforcement mission aligns with what he said African nations frequently cite as their most significant needs: enhancing their maritime security operations to protect fishing rights, stop smuggling and interdict human and drug trafficking.

For many of the nations, Chong said their navies perform missions similar to those of the U.S. Coast Guard. For the most part, the African navies and coast guards protect their fisheries resources from illegal fishing, search for smugglers and and combat the region’s ongoing piracy problems.

In many cases, the African nations use equipment very similar to what the U.S. Coast Guard employs. Smaller nations have patrol boats similar to those used by the U.S. Coast Guard, Chong said. Larger nations have frigates which are the same size as the U.S. Coast Guard’s national security cutters.

“The technology is very comparable to us as far as doing those type of boardings off a smaller platform or off a frigate,” Chong said.

In the case of Nigeria, Chong said Thetis operated with a former U.S. Coast Guard cutter. Current Nigerian navy frigate NNS Thunder (F90) is the former Hamilton-class high endurance cutter USCGC Chase (WHEC-718). Chase was transferred to Nigeria after being decommissioned in 2011.

“We’re helping a lot of these countries and their navies and coast guards to do boarding and security type functions,” Chong told USNI News. “We’re working with them jointly in their own maritime security zones.”

Geopolitical Mission

However, having the U.S. Coast Guard share knowledge and expertise with African nations serves another purpose that’s harder to quantify but is critical to U.S. foreign policy: acting as a counter to the growing influence of China in the region, officials say.

“I think I can safely say China’s interests are not the same as our interests,” Foggo said. “China has tripled its loans to Africa since 2012, making Beijing a major debt holder for African governments. China’s focus is geared towards using money and loans to open doors and access to natural resources contracts. This type of debt diplomacy can be a hindrance.”

Citing recent developments in Sri Lanka, Foggo said after that island nation’s ballooning debt to China grew unsustainable, China agreed to forgive some of the debt in return for gaining control of a major Sri Lankan port facility for 99 years.

Expect to see increased U.S. Coast Guard missions to support U.S. Navy fleet operations around the world, officials say.

“You look at Oceana; you look at China asserting influence, checkbook diplomacy in places where there’s not much of a tempering or competing voice right now,” Commandant of the Coast Guard Adm. Karl Schultz said last summer. “The Coast Guard I think can bring some unique capabilities in building partner capacity.”

Since Schultz foreshadowed sending Coast Guard assets to assist U.S. Navy missions, Thetis was sent to Africa. Meanwhile, and around the globe, cutter USCGC Bertholf (WSML-750) joined guided-missile destroyer USS Curtis Wilbur (DDG-54) in showing the roughly 110-mile wide body of water separating mainland China from Taiwan remains open for all maritime traffic.

“The bottom line is we’re there to work with our friends,” Foggo said. “We don’t ask for anything in return except for their friendship.”


Congress Seen As Failing To Prioritize Maritime Cyber Risks

The United States Coast Guard (USCG) routinely responds to cybersecurity breaches on ships at the same time lawmakers are failing to devote the attention and resources needed to help lessen the threat, according to government officials.

“The problems are very severe,” said John Garamendi, a Democratic congressman from California, speaking on a panel on “Securing Maritime Commerce” at the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C. this week.

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