Counter-Terrorism: February 27, 2005


With over 50,000 ocean going vessels out there, that could make it to North America, the U.S. Navy and Coast Guard have developed techniques to deal with the situation. First, only a few thousand ocean going ships regularly visit North America. Most are huge cargo vessels or tankers, constantly moving back and forth between East Asian or Persian Gulf ports and North American destinations. These are easy to watch. So the navy has established a class of ships that get special attention. These are called vessels of interest (VOI). Some get included in this list because they carry hazardous materials (explosives or very dangerous chemicals). Others are VOIs because they are where they shouldnt be there, or are simply suspected of involvement in one seagoing criminal activity or another. If a Chinese or African coastal freighter is spotted approaching North America, it becomes a VOI. If a sailor jumps ship in the United States, that vessel becomes a VOI (because this is now considered a method for smuggling terrorists into the country.) More attention is paid to theft at containers ports. Its long been common for criminals to smuggle goods (usually drugs) and people (often prostitutes, or just illegal migrants) in via shipping containers. But terrorists could also come in that way. Appeals to port workers patriotism usually provides a steady supply of tips on which crooks are, or might be, crossing the line from thieving to terrorism.

The search for VOIs has also uncovered a lot more nefarious activity on the high seas than the navy had previously suspected. While it was known that North Korea had been shipping illegal goods (drugs, counterfeit cash, weapons) around on its merchant ships, the VOI search uncovered much, much more. The North Koreans have been more active in gunrunning and smuggling illegal raw materials (ore, oil and lumber) out of Africa and Asian hot spots. So far, theres been no proof that the North Korean smuggling fleet has been servicing terrorist organization. But its thought the North Koreans would, if the price was right, and the chances of getting caught seemed minimal.

VOIs have become a seagoing version of the usual suspects. The same ships keep showing up again and again when the navy, coast guard or port authorities go looking for bad behavior.


Article Archive

Counter-Terrorism: Current 2021 2020 2019 2018 2017 2016 2015 2014 2013 2012 2011 2010 2009 2008 2007 2006 2005 2004 



Help Keep Us Soaring

We need your help! Our subscription base has slowly been dwindling. We need your help in reversing that trend. We would like to add 20 new subscribers this month.

Each month we count on your subscriptions or contributions. You can support us in the following ways:

  1. Make sure you spread the word about us. Two ways to do that are to like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.
  2. Subscribe to our daily newsletter. We’ll send the news to your email box, and you don’t have to come to the site unless you want to read columns or see photos.
  3. You can contribute to the health of StrategyPage. A contribution is not a donation that you can deduct at tax time, but a form of crowdfunding. We store none of your information when you contribute..
Subscribe   Contribute   Close