The Senate introduced Coast Guard reauthorization legislation on Thursday. U.S. Sens. John Thune (R-S.D.) and Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), who respectively serve as the chairman and ranking member of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, and Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Cory Booker (D-N.J.), who serve as chairman and ranking member of the subcommittee with jurisdiction over the Coast Guard, announced the introduction of S. 1611, the Coast Guard Authorization Act of 2015.

“This reauthorization maintains necessary support for the Coast Guard, a military branch with critical responsibilities than range from protecting our national security to enforcing maritime safety, drug interdiction, and critical search and rescue missions,” said Thune. “Our committee has worked on a bipartisan basis to craft this legislation giving the men and women who patrol and protect our shores the tools they need to do their jobs.”

“The Coast Guard is on watch every day saving lives and stopping drug traffickers,” said Nelson. “This bill will ensure that continues by helping the agency replace its aging fleet of cutters, some of which are over 40 years old.”

“The oceans that surround Florida provide a major source of economic activity and jobs, and the Coast Guard plays a key role in upholding the laws of the sea and protecting seafaring people,” said Rubio. “This legislation will enhance the Coast Guard’s ability to enforce vital maritime operations to counter illicit trafficking of weapons, narcotics and people. It’s important that Congress move forward in passing this reauthorization bill so that the Coast Guard can continue its important work.”

“The men and women of the Coast Guard put their lives on the line every day to safeguard lives and property at sea, keep our ports secure, and protect our marine environment both in New Jersey and all across our great country,” Booker said. “As ranking member of the Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries, and Coast Guard subcommittee, I am pleased to stand with my colleagues to introduce a bill that provides our Coast Guard with the resources they need to carry out their mission and ensure the safety of our nation by protecting our maritime interests around the world.”

Features of S. 1611, to reauthorize the U.S. Coast Guard for fiscal years 2016-2017, include:

    • Maritime drug enforcement – Sec. 302 includes new authorities to combat illicit trafficking and smuggling and transnational criminal organizations, including those active in the Caribbean Basin. The section criminalizes concealment of bulk cash proceeds of $100,000 or more on smugglers' vessels that are subject to U.S. maritime law.
    • Polar icebreaker – Sec. 212 authorizes the Coast Guard commandant to utilize incremental funding as a strategy for any potential future acquisition of a polar icebreaker. This would allow the Coast Guard to spread the cost of such a vessel over multiple fiscal years and reduce its overall impact on the service's overall limited acquisition budget. Incremental funding has previously been used by the Navy during the acquisition of aircraft carriers, assault ships, and destroyers. U.S. polar icebreakers have traditionally operated in the Arctic Ocean which has witnessed an increased amount of commercial seafaring vessels.
    • Maintains current authorization level – authorizes the Coast Guard for fiscal years 2016 and 2017 at $8.7 billion – the same level as its current authorization in 2015.
    • Federal Maritime Commission – Title IV reauthorizes the Federal Maritime Commission at current funding levels while providing increased accountability at the FMC by ensuring all Commissioners have the opportunity to review hiring decisions and budget submissions. 
    • The Sportfish Restoration and Recreational Boating Safety Act, S. 834 – Title V of the reauthorization includes related bipartisan legislation previously approved by the Commerce Committee on March 25.

Click here for the text of S.1611.

Companion legislation in the House, H.R. 1987, was approved on May 18 by voice vote.

David Krapf has been editor of WorkBoat, the nation’s leading trade magazine for the inland and coastal waterways industry, since 1999. He is responsible for overseeing the editorial direction of the publication. Krapf has been in the publishing industry since 1987, beginning as a reporter and editor with daily and weekly newspapers in the Houston area. He also was the editor of a transportation industry daily in New Orleans before joining WorkBoat as a contributing editor in 1992. He has been covering the transportation industry since 1989, and has a degree in business administration from the State University of New York at Oswego, and also studied journalism at the University of Houston.