Learning to Love MARSEC


The war on terror: It’s as far away as some country you can’t even pronounce or find on the map, and as close as your local ferry terminal.

I was over in San Francisco today and decided to take the ferry home. No matter how many times I ride the boat, the trip is fun and the scene on the bay is always engrossing. But getting on the ferry isn’t the same as it used to be. Until sometime in the last year or so, when you wanted to take the ferry, you just walked onto the dock and waited for the boat to come in. Now, as part of our new anti-terror reality, the company that runs the ferry keeps the access doors to the dock locked until the boats are moored and ready to board. Not a big deal, I guess. But here’s something else: There’s an official posting at the dock entrance announcing the current Coast Guard "MARSEC" (Maritime Security) level. Right now, we’re at MARSEC Level 1, "the level for which minimum appropriate security measures shall be maintained at all times. MARSEC 1 generally applies when HSAS Threat Condition Green, Blue, or Yellow are set" (that seems to mean that we’re always at MARSEC 1;  just like the global war on terrorism, the threat never ends).

Beyond conveying the news we’re at MARSEC 1, the sign also advises that "boarding the vessel or entering this area is deemed valid consent to screening or inspection …. failure to consent or submit to screening or inspection will in denial or revocation of authorization to board or enter." That declaration is followed by a couple of citations from the Code of Federal Regulations, including: 33CFR104.265 (e)(2), that specify security measures to be taken under various threat levels..

It’s true that these security precautions, as implemented, are quite mild; I’ve never seen anybody searched on the Oakland ferry, and as far as I know, no one ever has been. It’s also true I have no desire to see someone set off a bomb on a ferry or in any other public place. Still, there it is: If someone else says so, you have to submit to a search to ride the boat. It’s just another place where we surrender just a little bit of our right to be left alone, where the presumption about citizens in public spaces is that they’re potential threats until they show otherwise.

If the ride wasn’t so beautiful, I’d probably find another way to get home.


2 Replies to “Learning to Love MARSEC”

  1. Did they make you show some kind of ID in order to travel on the ferry? Supposedly at every MARSEC level (even the lowest), everyone has to show ID to get on board. That’s what the regs say — though it’s unconstitutional in my opinion to restrict citizens’ right to travel “without papers” — but I don’t know if they’re actually enforcing it.

  2. I saw that sign last week as well. My first time on the ferry. And my first time seeing such a sign. Where or when will it stop?
    I wrote an op-ed about this matter (see the link). You may find it interesting.

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