U.S. Coast Guard and Royal Canadian Mounted Police are training together in Charleston and then riding along with each other to patrol waterways along the United-States-Canadian border, checking for everything from safety violations to drug and cigarette running.
"It's good news for security on both sides of the border. It's good news for the taxpayers - one ship instead of two - and of course it's wonderful to watch the partnership in training," Gary Doer, the Canadian ambassador to the United States said Tuesday as he visited the Coast Guard's Maritime Law Enforcement Academy.
Doer and officials from both nations got to see personnel train for the Shiprider program, which officially began last year after several years of pilot testing and evaluation. All training for Shiprider is done in Charleston in eight-day courses. So far 236 have graduated from the program.
Shiprider has two full-time operations - one along the border between Detroit and Windsor, Ontario, and another on the border between Blaine, Wash., and Surry, British Columbia. Two more full-time operations are to begin next year in other locations.
The training involves becoming familiar with the laws of both countries and working as a team, including conducting simulated boarding exercises.
The sovereignty of both nations is observed and if an apprehension is made in American waters, a Coast Guard officer is in charge and U.S. law applies. If it's on the Canadian side of the border, it's the opposite.
In the past, the U.S. and Canada might have vessels on their own sides of the border mirroring each other, said Coast Guard Lt. Shannon Scaff, the chief of advanced schools at the academy.
"This is a highly important program for both of our governments," said Sgt. Michael Fox of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and one of the instructors in Charleston.
To date the operation has seized more than 2 tons of contraband tobacco and more than a million contraband cigarettes as well as more than 100 pounds of marijuana.
"A lot of people say, when they hear about it, why didn't you do it earlier?" Doer said. "It's such a common sense approach to our maritime security. It makes a lot of sense to train and enforce the laws while respecting each other's sovereignty."