New York City is on high alert this week as the United States prepares for a possible terrorist attack. With 3,500 sailors on 19 ships from five countries in port for Fleet Week, the U.S. Coast Guard will have extra work to do to keep New York Harbor safe.
The Coast Guard cutter Flyingfish glides through New York Harbor on a cloudy spring morning. The ship's captain, Chief Henry Strehle, says he and his crew are keeping an eye out for anything unusual. "What we would look at is if we saw a vessel that was doing some erratic behavior, or looks suspicious, or maybe there was some intelligence out to look for a certain vessel. Anything that just doesn't fit, that doesn't look right, we would check out," he says.
The ship is not as intimidating as the big Navy warships that are in port this week. But crew member Michelle Holzer says the Flyingfish is prepared to defend New York. "We're standing in front of a 50-caliber machine gun. It's used in case we ever have to fire it off against terrorism, or anything for our security, or the security of New York," she says.
There are two of these guns mounted on the front of the Flyingfish. The Coast Guard is on a sharper lookout for terrorism since the attacks of September 11, 2001.
Another mass-casualty attack would be devastating to the city. But even a less-deadly attack in the harbor could still seriously damage the nation's economy. The Port of New York and New Jersey is the nation's third-largest, and one of the biggest in the world. It handles nearly $90 billion worth of cargo a year.
So Lieutenant Mike Sinclair says if the Coast Guard is suspicious of an incoming ship, officers will stop it and board it as far as twelve miles from port. "We try to push out the borders as much as possible, just in case there's a problem with the vessel, with the vessel's crew, or its cargo. We like to identify it and remedy it as soon as possible," he says.
The crew of the Flyingfish lives aboard the ship, working in four- to six-hour shifts, called watches. Justin Cimbak runs the engine room on his watch. Then he's off for twelve hours. "When you're not on watch, just hanging out, getting what you need done, catching up on sleep if you're tired," he says. "Usually, hanging out, watching movies. Reading. I do a lot of reading. Basically, your time to just lay back and take a little [break]."
Or get a bite to eat.
"I'm taking my marinated chicken, and I'm grilling it up, and then I'm going to do my fried rice after that," says cook Mark Root. Everyone on board agrees he's a great cook.
That is lucky for the crew, because he will be feeding them three meals a day while the boat is on patrol. And those patrols can last up to three days at a time.
Good food is also a necessary comfort because the crew is away from home. The Flyingfish is stationed in Boston, Massachusetts, hundreds of kilometers from New York. Boat's Mate Seth Tomas says the Coast Guard brough the Flyingfish here because two New York-based ships are providing port security in Iraq. "Two of the Coast Guard 110-footers were pulled to go overseas. And obviously with them being gone, somebody else needs to fill in where they are. And we're doing the best we can to help out," he says.
That help is greatly needed. The Coast Guard is scruitinizing many more ships now than it did two years ago. It is also conducting many more patrols in New York Harbor, and in other coastal cities. And the Coast Guard is spending more time protecting other key infrastructure sites along the coastline.
That takes a lot more people. Four hundred reservists have been called up to active duty.
And this is an especially busy holiday weekend in New York Harbor. Hundreds of vacationing boaters will fill the harbor for Memorial Day weekend. So the crew of the Flyingfish will plenty to do watching out for boaters in trouble, as well as those looking to cause trouble.