NEW YORK (FOX 5 NY) - Coast Guard Sector New York's command center at on Staten Island manages all Coast Guard operations, from search-and-rescue to security, in the New York area.
The Coast Guard is responsible for tracking every boat and ship that comes into New York Harbor, a vast region that starts 10 miles south of the Verrazzano–Narrows Bridge all the way up the Hudson River past the George Washington Bridge. The Coast Guard estimates that is one major vessel every eight minutes.
"Our job is to ensure the safety and security of this port," Capt. Jason Tama, the captain of the Port of New York and New Jersey, told FOX 5 NY. "And that's the safety and security of the hundreds of billions of dollars of cargo, the tens of millions of passengers, and the thousands of recreational boaters that move on this waterway."
Showing me the port from a vantage point in Fort Wadsworth, Tama said the job gets bigger every year. With the region's population growth and no major new roadways being built, waterway traffic is an increasingly popular alternative. And so is the potential for problems and danger, from boating accidents to toxic spills and terror threats.
"Our missions fall under three buckets," Tama said. "It's really safety, security, and environmental protection."
Vessel traffic service director Greg Hitchen showed FOX 5 NY what he and his staff do.
"Here we manage all the ships and tugs and tows that come in and out of the Port of New York and New Jersey," said Hitchen, who is a Coast Guard veteran and is now a civilian employee.
One-third of the United States gets its goods and products through the Port of New York and New Jersey, he said. The Coast Guard is prepared for any incident or emergency with established protocols.
"We coordinate on a daily basis with NYPD, the Fire Department as well," Hitchen said, "and the New Jersey law enforcement entities if we see a problem."
Hitchen gave us a closer look at how they keep security tight and the waterways safe.
"Once every eight minutes, someone is calling us to tell us they're either entering the port or they're getting underway from their pier and leaving the port," he said.
Operations Specialist 1st Class Marc-Antoine Jean works a 12-hour shift. He keeps his eyes focused on monitors that show everything moving on the water in the port, what they call the AOR, an acronym for area of responsibility.
"On Channel 11, it's initial check-in. Any of the vessels that will be commuting in our AOR are required to check in on channel 11," he said. "We're providing them any significant advisories as well as traffic that will affect their transit."
The monitors show not only what's moving but also where boats and ships are docked or anchored, like parking spots on the water.
From the Fort Wadsworth headquarters on Staten Island, we headed over to a part of the Brooklyn Navy Yard few get to see. The Coast Guard is also responsible for ensuring that vessels moving through the port are physically safe. The tough work requires hands-on physical inspections in the dry dock area and knowledge of not only what goes right but what can go wrong. Lt. Rachel Laplante said they inspect vessels for corrosion, damage, or other issues.
The members of the Coast Guard know they're the front line of defense on the waterways for millions of people, so they work hard to fulfill that mission every day.