NORTH CHARLESTON — A decade-long effort to consolidate Coast Guard law enforcement training is complete with all programs now based at the Maritime Law Enforcement Academy in South Carolina.
The Coast Guard vessel pursuit training program begins operating at the academy at the old Charleston Naval Base this week, having been moved from Camp Lejeune, N.C., to finish the consolidation.
“The process began about 10 years ago when the Coast Guard decided to start consolidating its law enforcement training from California, Virginia and North Carolina,” Cmdr. Thomas Walsh, the academy commander, said Friday. “Bringing this boat course to Charleston is the capstone event in tying all law enforcement training under one roof.”
The academy will now provide advanced training to about 2,700 Coast Guard personnel a year.
“What it means is we have from the beginning to the end one place where we can comprehensively teach from very basic law enforcement to advanced boat training,” Walsh added.
Senior Chief Petty Officer Seth Hunt is overseeing the vessel pursuit program that trains personnel how to pursue and apprehend small vessels. About 180 personnel will take the training each year.
“Whether they are operating in the Atlantic, the Pacific or the Gulf of Mexico, if they come across a vessel they suspect of smuggling or human trafficking, we give them the tools stop that vessel, even if they don’t want to stop,” Hunt said.
Those tactics might range from stopping and boarding the vessel to disabling it by shooting its engines. On Friday, Coast Guard personnel, riding in a Zodiac boat, demonstrated how they would board a boat with suspected drug smugglers.
Personnel are also taught how to identify suspicious boats. Drums of fuel on the boat deck can be one indication that something is not right.
“If it’s 200 miles off the coast and is loaded up with fuel, it’s pretty obvious they are up to no good. They are not just out for a daily fishing trip,” Hunt said. “Close to shore there is a lot more boat traffic. But it may be something as simple as the boat’s course and speed and where they are operating.”
The first Coast Guard personnel go through the course next month. A pilot program starts today with experts taking the course to review it and recommend improvements, he added.
Coast Guard personnel demonstrate a training exercise on boarding a small boat at the Maritime Law Enforcement Academy in North Charleston, S.C., on Friday, Sept. 6, 2013. The exercise is part of the academy's Vessel Pursuit Training Program. With the transfer of the program from Camp Lejeune, N.C., all Coast Guard law enforcement training programs are now based in South Carolina. (AP Photo/Bruce Smith)×