Emerging Policy

6/1/2017: Nor-Shipping 2017 – Remarks by Rear Adm. Paul Thomas, “Global Governance and Ocean Space”

Editor’s Note: Earlier this week, Rear Adm. Paul Thomas, assistant commandant for prevention policy, had the opportunity to give remarks during several sessions at the 2017 Nor-Shipping Conference in Oslo, Norway. Each session included many other international participants representing government and private sector interests.

As a courtesy to our subscribers, Maritime Commons is providing a condensed version of Thomas’s remarks, in a multi-part blog series. These remarks are not ‘as delivered’ but provide a condensed version of the panel highlights in the ‘panel-conversational’ style.

First up, Thomas gives the Coast Guard perspective during a panel titled “Global Governance and the Ocean Space.”

Global Governance and the Ocean Space 

Thank you for the opportunity to participate in this important discussion.

You have rightly focused on the role of global governance in meeting our shared challenge of ensuring the environmental sustainability of our ocean space.

In fact, we are faced with a triple challenge: (1) growing the capacity of our maritime systems to handle increasing demands on the oceans for transportation, energy, food, and other purposes, while (2) reducing the environmental footprint of human activity on our oceans, and (3) an increasingly complex global economy served by global industries leveraging cutting edge technologies.

These challenges demand that we all focus on the mechanisms of good governance; from the deck plate to the board room to the Houses of Government and the chambers of international bodies.

The private sector will play an important role in meeting this triple challenge in our ocean space; both in terms of building and running the physical infrastructure associated, and in providing governance in the form of best practices, safety and environmental managements systems, industry standards, and supply chain requirements. But, governments and intergovernmental bodies such as the IMO will also have a critical role, particularly in setting the conditions that promote the innovation and investment required to build capacity while decreasing the environmental footprint in the face of ever increasing complexity.

As a lead maritime governance agency in the United States, the U.S. Coast Guard has defined three strategic lines of effort to meet the triple challenge I’ve described.

  1. Build governance capacity, both within our Coast Guard and other US agencies and within partner nation governments
  2. Support and participate in venues that foster cooperation among governments for the purpose of providing maritime governance
  3. Leverage the global capacity and venues for cooperation to put in place regimes of all kinds that set the stage for the private sector to succeed in meeting the challenge of building capacity while decreasing footprint and dealing with complexity


The Coast Guard does capacity building on a global scale. Our people are on every continent and work with more than 120 nations each year. We provide capacity building assistance in the form of training, legal assistance, and joint operations that span the spectrum of maritime governance, from interdiction of migrants and illegal cargos, to protection of fisheries stocks and physical and cyber security vulnerabilities assessments, to drafting model legislation, contingency planning and exercises, and incident response and investigation, to name just a few. We do this because we understand, like you do, that the first step in global governance is building the capacity to govern locally.

With regard to venues for cooperation with other governments, the Coast Guard is currently party to literally hundreds of bilateral and multilateral agreements and bodies that are focused on maritime governance – from law enforcement, to security cooperation, to major incident response and everything in between. We rely on these relationships to inform everyday operations, enforce current requirements, and identify emerging trends and challenges. Particularly useful for discussions regarding emerging maritime issues are the intergovernmental organizations such as the Atlantic, Pacific and Arctic coast guard forums in which we participate, and of course the IMO.

Of course, the goal of the capacity building and cooperative relationships is to put in place regimes that set the conditions for success in meeting maritime challenges globally. For us, as for you I am sure, this means risk-based performance standards that are globally consistent and provide the certainty needed to foster investment and innovation while raising the bar where appropriate. The process by which these regimes are developed and implemented is almost as important as the regimes themselves, particularly with regard to how we collectively incentivize innovators, reward early adopters, and avoid a race to the lowest common denominator.

If we continue to start on common ground, work to build governance capacity worldwide, foster cooperation between governments and evolve and implement effective regimes, we will all succeed at leveraging and protecting our shared ocean space.

I look forward to the discussion.
This blog is not a replacement or substitute for the formal posting of regulations and updates or existing processes for receiving formal feedback of the same. Links provided on this blog will direct the reader to official source documents, such as the Federal Register, Homeport and the Code of Federal Regulations. These documents remain the official source for regulatory information published by the Coast Guard.

Leave a Reply