The commandant of the Coast Guard, Admiral Paul Zukunft, will testify on the Coast Guard’s statutory missions including the current interdiction efforts that often intersect with organized transnational smugglers. Combatting transnational criminal networks and enforcing U.S. maritime border security are two of the Coast Guard’s top priorities over the next decade.
Admiral Paul Zukunft, Commandant, U.S. Coast Guard
Wednesday, June 15, 2016
2:00 p.m. ET
Senate Russell Building 253
Witness testimony, opening statements, and a livestream will be available on www.commerce.senate.gov.
Senator Marco Rubio
“Today’s hearing is going to focus on the ever-evolving and increasingly vital missions the men and women of the U.S. Coast Guard face on a daily basis. They are the premier lifeline when our boaters are lost, when our ports need securing, our coastal borders need protecting, and when many other essential needs arise.
“When it comes to addressing the flow of migrants, my home state of Florida continues to be the state that needs the most resources. The Coast Guard has dealt admirably with the continued increase in Cuban migrants attempting to make it to our shores.
“Because of the repression in Cuba, it’s no wonder that so many Cubans are boarding makeshift rafts in the middle of the night to seek a better life. In fact, as what I believe is a direct result of this Administration’s flawed policy toward Cuba, we have seen a 196% increase in migrant interdictions from the first quarter of [fiscal year] 2014 to the same time period in 2016. It is usually the Coast Guard that first encounters, and often rescues, those who have fled.
“What is staggering is the lengths these migrants will go to evade capture, or force transport to a U.S. hospital. Incidents aboard Coast Guard vessels have included stabbing themselves with knives, swallowing hazardous materials such as fuel and bleach, self-inflicted gun-shot wounds, and attempting to flee, often by jumping overboard in the middle of the sea. It was recently reported that a migrant attempted to light a Molotov cocktail during an interdiction last summer.
“It is these acts and the increase in violent and noncompliant behavior that put the men and women of our Coast Guard in additional danger. As the Admiral states in his written testimony, it is this capable and talented workforce that is the Coast Guard’s greatest strength, and it is they who are best equipped to handle this extreme behavior.
“Once migrants are first detected, the job of the Coast Guard has just begun. This is evidenced by the May 20th instance where 19 Cuban migrants climbed a lighthouse structure in the Florida Keys. While the Coast Guard was able to talk the migrants off the structure, the next day, two more migrants were found on the lighthouse. It was determined they had hidden during the previous day’s interdiction. It was then reported that another individual from the same group was clinging to a piece of driftwood four miles from Sugarloaf Key. In total, 24 migrants await a decision on their fate from the courts aboard Cutter Diligence.
“Today marks 26 days the migrants have been under the care of the U.S. Coast Guard, with a decision from the judge not expected for another two to three weeks. We must remember that although the mission is to intercept and ensure safety of life, unfortunately scores of migrants who attempt to make the dangerous journey across the Florida Straits are not successful and succumb to the elements or they drown.
“I was fortunate enough to recently spend the day with the Coast Guard in Florida. I was briefed aboard the fast response cutter, Margaret Norvell, on the protocols for interdicting and processing migrants. Every person brought on board is given medical treatment, food, water, shelter and clothing.
“They are also provided access to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services for an immigration screening, where it is determined whether or not they qualify for asylum. If it is determined they do not qualify for that status, it can be days or weeks before the migrants are repatriated to Cuba.
“Migrant interdiction is not the only mission vital to ensuring the waters and well-being of the American people. As the lead federal agency in charge of maritime drug interdictions, the Coast Guard is increasingly responsible for stopping the flow of illicit drugs into the United States. This year alone, the Coast Guard has seized approximately 290,000 pounds of cocaine, more than 41,000 pounds of marijuana, they’ve arrested 413 smugglers, and they’ve seized 119 vessels.
“The drug rings that propel the illicit trades have vast resources to move narcotics into this country. These organizations are using advanced methods of smuggling, as evidenced by the Coast Guard intercepting two self-propelled, semi-submersibles in the Pacific Ocean within the last year. These efforts prevented 28 metric tons of cocaine from reaching our communities.
“Search and rescue missions also represent a vital task of the Coast Guard. One only needs to turn on the news on many days in my home state to know that this is an apt description that their motto, ‘Semper Paratus’ means ‘Always Ready.’
“In 2015 alone, the Coast Guard performed 3,174 search and rescue missions off the coast of Florida. It was the Coast Guard that quickly responded and did everything they could to find Perry Cohen and Austin Stephanos, two teenage boys sadly lost at sea last summer. Just last week, Coast Guard Sector in St. Petersburg was able to locate and rescue five people aboard a disabled boat 60 miles off the Gulf of Mexico coast.
“And lastly, I would be remiss not to recognize the Coast Guard’s valiant efforts in searching for the 33 souls lost aboard the El Faro last October. Hurricane winds would not stop them from seeking the cargo ship that ultimately succumbed to Hurricane Joaquin. These are just a few of many examples that show how much we rely on the men and women of the Coast Guard to quickly respond when we need them the most.
“In closing, Florida has an incredibly high rate of boating accidents. In 2015, there were 55 fatalities and 737 accidents reported in Florida. I know we can do better, and education is the key to accomplishing that.
“We recently observed ‘National Safe Boating Week,’ and I urge everyone to follow the tenets of responsible boating. I would note that the Coast Guard has provided a mobile app for boating safety, where you can find state boating information, a safety checklist, navigation rules, the ability to report a hazard or pollution, request emergency assistance and other important features.”
Witness Panel 1
Admiral Paul ZukunftCommandantU.S. Coast Guard