Congressman Ted Poe (TX-02) announced today that his amendments to the Coast Guard Authorization Act passed the US House of Representatives. Congressman Poe offered two amendments to specifically address issues of national security in international waters and domestic passenger cruise safety.
Congressman Poe joined Congressman Dan Lungren (CA-03) to author an amendment to criminalize the operation of stealth semi-submersible vessels in international waters. Currently, federal law states that it is only a crime to operate one of the vessels if the Coast Guard recovers illicit drugs on board.
The influx of illegal drugs is one of Americas greatest maritime security threats and a battle the brave men and women of the U.S. Coast Guard wage everyday, said Poe. While these vessels presently are only transporting narcotics, they could conceivably be used also in alien smuggling or fitted with explosive devices and used by terrorists to attack naval vessels, cruise ships, or oil tankers in the Caribbean or Eastern Pacific. Criminalizing their operation therefore would deter the use of these vessels and facilitate effective prosecution to stop this treacherous and emerging trend.
Over a recent four month span, the Coast Guard has reported that 27 of these submarines were carrying an estimated 122 tons of cocaine at a value of nearly $2.7 billion. These vessels are reportedly being made in the jungles of Columbia and are constructed and operated to avoid detection, with mechanisms to rapidly sink and destroy their elicit cargo if spotted by maritime law enforcement to conceal the evidence of a crime.
In addition, Congressman Poe joined Congresswomen Matsui (CA-05) and Maloney (NY-14) and Congressman Shays (CT-4) in authoring an amendment to inform the public of the potential for a crime to occur while on a cruise ship. The amendment requires the Coast Guard to maintain a numerical accounting of missing persons and alleged crimes committed on cruise ships and have the information available online. The database will be updated quarterly and requires cruise lines to include a link to this database on their public websites.
This year nearly 10 million Americans will board a cruise ship and set sail from an American port, said Poe. At this time there is no oversight or accountability of the safety and security of these citizens. There have been a number of high profile cases in the news of passengers falling overboard, passengers gone missing, and passengers being victims of sexual assaults. This amendment will help create a more informed and aware passenger, and hopefully will help prevent another sexual assault, violent crime, missing person or death on a ship.
Congressman Poe serves on the House Transportation Committee, Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Subcommittee and is the founder and co-chair of the Congressional Victims Rights Caucus advocating on behalf of victims, children and law enforcement.