The Italian Coast Guard

By Lieutenant Commander Massimo di Raimondo, Italian Coast Guard
  • Administrative . Administration of state maritime property; discipline of the harbor labor and seamen; oversight of nautical recreation; fisheries protection; holding shipping registers; providing maritime examinations and licenses, and more.
  • Technical and operational . Command and regulation of harbors; safety of navigation; fishery control; maritime police; search and rescue; oversight of maritime activities; pollution prevention and abatement; environmental protection; drug interdiction; immigration control; protection of submerged archaeological patrimony, and more.
  • Military functions . Harbor and coastal defense; control of shipping; logistic support to naval forces; national military service in the Navy; mobilization; recruitment for the Navy; military police.
  • International obligations . Enforcement of the U.N. embargo of former Yugoslavia, as well as fishery protection in accordance with European Community rules.

Like other coast guards, the Harbormasters Corps serves many masters, primarily the Ministry of Transports and Navigation and the Ministry of Defense. But the Corps also works with the Ministry of Agricultural, Alimentary and Forest Resources, the Ministry of the Environment, the Ministry of Cultural and Environmental Goods, and the Department of Civil Protection.

The Harbormasters Corps also collaborates with the Ministry of the Interior to prevent clandestine immigration by sea and carries out police functions under the Judicial Authorities (Power of Attorney of the Republic).

The General Headquarters of the Harbormasters Corps works as an interface between the Corps and the various administrations. Furthermore, it disburses assignments and coordinates with peripheral offices. The Corps' organizational structure contains:

  • 1 general headquarters in Rome
  • 13 maritime districts (one for every coastal region except for Sicily; which has two because of its large coastline: one in Palermo, for Western Sicily and the other in Catania for Eastern Sicily) and 13 maritime area operations' commands, situated in the maritime districts, with purely operational functions
  • 48 harbor offices
  • 44 maritime district offices
  • 140 local maritime offices
  • 3 air bases for fixed wing aircraft and 1 for helicopters
  • 2 Loran-C stations and 1 COSPAS/SARSAT station
  • 6 anti-pollution operational centers

The Coast Guard

With the Interdepartmental Order of 8 June 1989, the sections of the Harbormasters Corps that perform technical operational missions were constituted in "the Coast Guard."

Such administrative maneuvers may have founded formally the Italian Coast Guard, but in reality have done little more than recognize services that have been performed all along by the Harbormasters Corps. As in other nations, the naval and the air units of the Corps bear both the Coast Guard logo and the traditional red diagonal band on the hull or on the fuselage, which distinguishes them from other police forces. But adding our own Italian flavor, the Coast Guard stripe bears the colors of our national flag. It is a tricolor band, in which the red section has assumed a predominant extension in the center, with the traditional black anchor on a white circular background.

The Activities

In recent years, the Harbormasters Corps has reduced its administrative functions while expanding its technical-operational nature. The Corps' responsibilities are growing, especially in the area of the safety of life at sea and in the harbors. Furthermore, the Corps has been entrusted with the operation and maintenance of the Global Maritime Distress and Safety System (GMDS) for Italy and of the Italian segment of the international systems COSPAS/SARSats and InMarSat.

A national system of assistance, control, and management of maritime traffic is in progress: the Vessel Traffic Service (VTS). The Italian VTS, besides assuring the orderly flow of the traffic, will be used to safeguard the marine environment. This system will be based primarily on radar observation, radio and satellite localization, real-time two-way management of data between VTS and ships, and automatic management of the naval kinematics and data banks; all interfaced with the Navy's Discovery radar system network.

It is important to note that the Coast Guard Headquarters operations center provides the operational structure to control surface vessels and aircraft and to give immediate answers to any emergency situation, 24 hours a day.

The heart of the operations center is the Navigation Information System in Advanced Technology (NISAT), a computerized system that allows the management of all search-and-rescue subsystems. Interfacing with external data banks, the NISAT has a high degree of flexibility that allows such varied functions as the reporting and display of naval units, acquisition and updating of digitized nautical charts, and acquisition of metero-oceanographic data.

Among the subsystems managed by NISAT, Automation Search And Rescue System (ARES) deserves particular attention. It is a ship reporting system, similar to the U.S. Coast Guard's Automated Mutual-Assistance Vessel Rescue (AMVER) system, which enables us to know the position, navigation plan, and destination of vessels. HazMat (hazardous materials) is a subsystem that reports the movement of ships carrying dangerous or potentially polluting goods between European Community ports, and the Marine Emergency (MarEm) system is a software package used by the operations center in cases of marine pollution control emergencies.

Coast Guard in the Defense Function

The Italian Coast Guard is an integral part of the Navy, with expenses shared by other departments, which provides an interesting example of a strategic vision in which the Navy constitutes the point of reference of all the operations that are carried out at sea, ensuring the required coordination.

Italy is a maritime nation with strategically significant geography. As the hinge between Europe, Africa, and the Middle East, Italy is the essential pivot of NATO in the southern region, and finds itself facing crisis situations in a maritime dimension. The Italian military is being used—often side-by-side with non-NATO forces—in peace-keeping, peace-enforcing, and crisis-management missions.

Aside from the traditional Cold War-style missions of national and NATO defense, new missions today include international peace operations, where the support is not exclusively military. This means having the ability to intervene in those non-military sectors that cannot be easily assigned to the Navy: immigration control; antipollution; fishery control, oversight of the activities in the Exclusive Economic Zone and on the continental platform; search and rescue, etc.

With such a wide range of missions to perform, even a relatively powerful navy, has some difficulty keeping up. Like other Western navies, Italian forces will have to do more with less by reducing administrative structure and reorganizing the operational component.

Why not create a superior instrument of naval power—by integrating the Navy and the Coast Guard?

Many of the new missions today attributed to the Navy can be performed by small coastal craft and patrol vessels. These are assignments perfectly suited to the Coast Guard. They are not purely military missions, but instead are civil-affairs missions, such as preventing clandestine immigration, drug interdiction, fisheries protection, and search and rescue, plus humanitarian operations and peacekeeping.

At present, the Italian mission in Albania, where 12 Coast Guard vessels operate within, Task Group 28 represents an perfect example of this type of integration.

Such an action has been possible because the Italian Coast Guard is a corps of the Navy. This guarantees unity of action and homogeneity of procedures.

Joint operations are enhanced whenever Coast Guard and Navy personnel are part of the same organization, attend the same academies, and participate in the same missions.

The Italian Coast Guard, as part of the Navy, makes greater synergy possible. Through the Coast Guard, the Navy has a broad presence in its home territory. It has an enormous social impact, plus a hand in the administration and management of many maritime activities, and therefore has a direct influence upon the economic and administrative life of the nation.

Lieutenant Commander di Raimondo is assigned to the Coast Guard General Headquarters in Rome. He is a graduate of the Naval Academy in Leghorn, Italy, and holds a PhD from the University of Catania.



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