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March 3, 2004

Terror suspects had U.S. merchant mariner documents

The U.S. Coast Guard and the Federal Bureau of Investigation announced today that they have completed a 14-month investigation into national security threats and document fraud associated with U.S. merchant mariner credentials. The investigation, known as Operation Drydock, revealed nine individuals that held credentials have suspected associations with terrorist groups.

"Through extensive and detailed investigative efforts, we have reduced vulnerabilities to terrorism by preventing the fraudulent use of credentials by those who seek to harm our nation and its citizens," said Admiral Thomas H. Collins, Commandant of the Coast Guard.

"This is a great example of interagency cooperation in the war on terror," he said. "Using our combined resources and expertise, we will continue to make America safer and more secure."

Merchant mariner credentials certify that an individual is qualified to work aboard a ship, and are required for all people who work aboard most commercial ships, including passenger vessels, and are often used as an identification document that allows mariners to come and go from the ship while it is docked in a foreign port.

The Coast Guard, working with the Federal Bureau of Investigation and other interagency partners, examined the records of over 200,000 individuals who hold a U.S. merchant mariner credential to identify potential terrorist links and detect document fraud.

In addition to the nine individuals possibly associated with terrorism, the Coast Guard identified thousands of cases of possible fraud or other problems, including mariners with active arrest warrants. In response to this information:

  • The Coast Guard is suspending and revoking unauthorized credentials.
  • U.S. Attorneys are pursuing criminal charges where warranted.
  • About a dozen people have been arrested because of active arrest warrants that were uncovered as a result of Operation Drydock.
  • The Coast Guard, FBI and the U.S. Navy worked together to screen mariners serving on Military Sealift Command ships carrying troops and material during the war in Iraq. More than a dozen mariners were removed from service aboard those vessels.

In addition to the Operation Drydock investigation of those holding current credentials, the Coast Guard strengthened the process for conducting criminal background checks for applicants seeking new mariner credentials, and began issuing the credentials on more tamper-resistant cards in February 2003. The new credentials incorporate improvements for increased security including features to deter counterfeiting, such as micro-printing and serial numbers directly connected to a single mariner.

The Coast Guard and FBI were assisted in this counterterrorism and criminal investigation by other components of the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Justice, Department of Defense, and U.S. Intelligence Community.

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