Effectively, Sea Marshals are to vessels what air marshals are to airplanes. Comprised of a combination of Coast Guard reservists and active duty members, Sea Marshals typically board large port-bound vessels offshore to ensure they arrive at the port safely. To make the process as seamless as possible, Sea Marshals often board vessels underway. Once on board, the team inspects key areas for any sign of threats or stowaways.
"We usually board vessels offshore so that before they even enter the port our job is already done," said Sea Marshal MK2 Stephen Wolfe.
In many cases, while conducting thorough security inspections, Sea Marshals encounter other problems such as illicit drugs or marine safety violations. Consequently, in one motion Sea Marshals carry out multiple missions in addition to port security.
"Since 9-11, Sea Marshals here have conducted thousands of vessel boardings. In the process, we have interdicted hundreds of illegal aliens and stowaways, spotted and reported hundreds of safety violations, and confiscated more than $10 million worth of narcotics, and that is just in this port alone," said PSC Eric Smith, the Sea Marshal's operations officer.
"The job requires us to be vigilant and knowledgeable of a variety of issues," said Wolfe.
Over the past three years, the Sea Marshals have developed a professional rapport with local and federal agencies including Los Angeles Port Police, Customs and Border Patrol and the FBI.
"We do a lot of joint boarding with other agencies," said Smith. "We work with the L.A. Port Police every week, and many of our boarding's involve CBP and on occasion the FBI. It's a concerted effort."
"It's nice to know that when we need back up, other agencies know who we are and are there to help us out," said MK2 Brian Boggs, who is also a Sea Marshal.
It is frequently the case that various agency missions overlap which often requires teamwork between them.
"The Sea Marshals and CBP, for example, share similar functions such as boarding commercial vessels," said Lt. Tim List, who oversees the Sea Marshal program. "Both agencies have specific skills and equipment that, combined, allow us to effectively ensure vessel and port security."
As the Sea Marshals become progressively more proficient, there is less of a need for reservist support. "Some of our reservists have been on active duty since 2001, so we're currently demobilizing many of them and in the process have added some active duty Sea Marshal billets," said List.
It is clear that the Sea Marshals here are a model of partnership between agencies, and in one fell swoop carry out multiple Coast Guard missions.
"The Coast Guard's cooperation with CBP, FBI and other agencies through the Sea Marshal program is a proven example of effective interagency collaboration, and the future of port security requires such teamwork amongst agencies," said List.