Maritime Security Gap
Hank Investigates: Maritime Security Gap
Not five minutes into harbor patrol, Detective Bill Bilotta and Sgt. Timothy Carroll see a motorboat they suspect is stolen.
They radio in the number on the bow, an out-of-state registration.
Hank Phillippi Ryan
"So that boat is iffy now that boat is questionable now?"
"Oh yeah. Right now."
Whoís boat is it, they want to know. Is it stolen?
In the Mass Environmental Police radio room, dispatchers start their computer search.
Back on the water, those monitoring harbor security, stepped up after 9/11, just have to wait for answers
"Could there be someone on that boat who is a felon, a dangerous person?"
Inside headquarters, officers know, unlike running a cars registration, finding out who owns a boat from another state--or if it's stolen-- can literally take days.
Lt. Jim Godin, Mass. Environmental Police
"Itís like wearing handcuffs and leg irons and still trying to do the job."
Hereís why: our investigation found right now thereís no way for local state or federal police on any waterway-- to quickly check all boat registration numbers. Each states ID system is different--separate-- and unconnected.
"Who could be in those boats do you know?"
Lt. Jim Godin
"I think we all have a pretty good idea who might be out there these days."
What's more, this problem was supposed to be solved years ago!
Back in 1988, Congress ordered the Coast Guard to set up a unified national vessel identification system, to let all law enforcement officials quickly ID all boats.
But this government report reveals 14 years and $9 million dollars later--no such system exists! The Coast Guard admits: they're still working on it.
Jack O'Dell, U.S. Coast Guard
"The problem is we have fifty different states and fifty different systems we have to make compatible.
And now, some on Capitol Hill wonder why someone can't just develop a database to figure out who owns a boat.
Rep. James Oberstar, (D), Minnesota
"I think its a serious gap in our security network."
In Massachusetts, the state environmental police decided to take action on their own. They know, most boats do have a manufacturer's ID number on the stern. That hull identification number, or HIN, is a specific configuration of letters and numbers.
So they computer-checked all the HIN numbers for boats in Massachusetts, to see how many of the 147,000 registered had proper HINs.
They were blown away by the results. One fifth of the numbers -- 38,000 -- were suspect! Altered, changed or just wrong.
"And would you know if you had a stolen boat?
Lt. Jim Godin
"Thatís a jump ball whether we would know or not."
So now, Massachusetts environmental police are calling in all those 38,000 boats and owners for special inspection.
Itís going to take years. And remember that boat the cops wondered about, eventually they found out, the ownerís address and registration did not match.
Itís another maritime mystery to solve. and until some kind of reliable system is created, those on marine watch know, there are countless more mysteries to go.
"And these days after 9/11?"