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RADM. John Nadeau: balance and investing in the waterways of the future

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In a change of command ceremony at the Port of New Orleans in New Orleans July 23, 2019, Rear Adm. Paul F. Thomas transferred command of the Eighth Coast Guard District to Rear Adm. John P. Nadeau.

District Eight is arguably the Coast Guard’s most complex district as the inland river system includes the bulk of the nation's inland waterways, including the Mississippi, Ohio, Missouri, Illinois and Tennessee rivers.

We spoke with the recently promoted Commander of Eighth Coast Guard District, Rear Adm. John Nadeau, about finding balance, measuring success and what are the USCG doing to invest in the waterways of the future.

Read the full interview below.

Rear Adm. Paul F. Thomas (right) transfers command of the Eighth Coast Guard District to Rear Adm. John P. Nadeau (left)

Rear Adm. Paul F. Thomas (right) transfers command of the Eighth Coast Guard District to Rear Adm. John P. Nadeau (left)


Iain Gomersall: In July you received command of the Eighth Coast Guard District, what does the command mean to you?

RADM. John Nadeau: It means a lot. I get out of bed each morning and I'm proud to put on the blue uniform. There is nothing like it.

It's an honour to me, and I'm very thankful for it every single day. I am proud to serve the world's greatest coast guard with a very talented group of dedicated professionals who perform righteous missions and keep others safe and secure.

To me, and most of the people I serve with here, it's so much more than just a pay check. I get to experience things that most people can only imagine. It fills me with pride and a great sense of accomplishment.

I like to think that we are contributing to something much bigger than ourselves. It's a big job, but I believe the missions we do are worthy of the sacrifice. I could not think of a greater honour.

Q: How will you measure your success in this position?

RADM. Nadeau: At the end of the day, I don't think I get to determine whether or not I am successful.

I lead and support the Coast Guard women and men in the Eighth District - almost 10,000, active duty, civil servants, reserve members, and Auxiliary volunteers at 107 units across the 26 states. We are at all times a military service, a law enforcement organization, a regulatory agency, a first responder, and a member of the intelligence community. We serve the American public and the maritime industry. That’s a lot of different roles and responsibilities, with sometimes contrasting priorities!

It will be up to these different stakeholders to decide how successful we are.

Rear Adm. John Nadeau, commander of the Eighth Coast Guard District, speaks during a change of watch ceremony at the New Canal Lighthouse in New Orleans.

Rear Adm. John Nadeau, commander of the Eighth Coast Guard District, speaks during a change of watch ceremony at the New Canal Lighthouse in New Orleans.


For the last 229 years the United States Coast Guard have been saving lives, keeping the marine transportation system safe and secure, and protecting the marine environment. I support the men and women that serve across the Eighth District, so that they can safely execute our 11 missions. I need to provide them what they need to execute the missions and provide the best possible service to our nation.

Q: As the maritime industry innovates and evolves, what do you foresee as the greatest challenges for the USCG in the year to come (2020)?

RADM. Nadeau: I have been thinking about this a lot recently, and I believe there are some significant issues that will challenge us over the next few years.

First, there is an increase in the demand for shipping and access to the waterways – ships are getting bigger and there are more of them! Yet in many ways, our ports and waterways are relatively constrained.

In most cases, our waterways are not getting much deeper and they are not getting a lot wider, yet we’re trying to handle more traffic and increasingly larger vessels. This is creating a demand to make our waterways more efficient.

At the same time, the maritime environment  is becoming more complex. We talk about digital disruption, machine learning, artificial intelligence, big data, block chains, and autonomous ships. We've always had change, but things are changing more rapidly today.

I am a “digital immigrant” and I didn't grow up with much of today’s technology, but I also consider myself an enthusiastic adopter and I want to learn. This morning I was kicking-off a cybersecurity exercise and discussion around cyber-tech on offshore oil and gas production infrastructure, and it’s all very exciting. The complexity of the maritime environment is increasing dramatically, and I see this as a big challenge.

The maritime domain is vulnerable to dangerous threats – such as transnational crime, potential terrorist activity, and illegal exploitation of our natural resources. Illegal activity by transnational criminal organizations and other malicious actors creates disorder. We will need to safeguard and facilitate commerce, while also protecting our borders and defending our sovereignty.

Finally, if you look at the agenda of the IMO today, it's largely focused on things like ballast water, sulphur, greenhouse gases, and black carbon - it's focused on reducing shipping’s environmental footprint.

The maritime industry is an incredibly efficient way to move goods around the globe, much better than other modes of transportation. However, there will be a steady demand from a variety of global stakeholders that the maritime industry continues to find ways to reduce the impact on the environment.

I believe these are some of our biggest challenges. The Commandant, Admiral Schultz, has outlined in the Coast Guard Strategic Plan what we need to do to ensure our workforce remains ready, relevant and responsive and how we are going to address these and other challenges.

Q: How does the USCG find balance between efficient flow of commerce, while reducing the risk of disruption to the marine transportation system?

RADM. Nadeau: The Coast Guard is the lead federal agency responsible for ensuring a safe, secure and prosperous marine transportation system.

Our marine transportation system is a gift to this country. We’re endowed with this gift of 25,000 miles of navigable inland waterways, 95,000 miles of coastline, and unfettered access to two of the world's largest oceans. We have 360 ports across this system and these waterways are marked with 50,000 aids to navigation which help thousands of vessels move throughout that system - at any given second, of any given day, 24 x 7 x 365 - and safely transport millions of people and tonnes of cargo.

The marine transportation system is the lifeblood of the economy, contributing about $5.4 trillion dollars a year to the US economy and supporting somewhere in the region of about 23 million US jobs.

It's a huge gift to this country, and the United States Coast Guard is entrusted to help ensure that we protect, preserve, secure and allow it to prosper for years to come.

We're committed to that, so striking a balance is something that we need to do.



The Commandant signed the “Maritime Commerce Strategic Outlook” last fall. I had the good fortune of being at headquarters when this document was drafted and it articulates what the United States Coast Guard’s contribution is to this system and how we go about ensuring the delivery of our missions to ensure the marine transportation system remains safe, secure, and prosperous.

There are 3 large lines of effort. First, we will facilitate lawful trade and travel on secure waterways and support the efficient flow of commerce while reducing the risk of disruption. Second, we will modernize our aids to navigation and mariner information systems. And third, we will transform our workforce capacity and our partnerships to keep pace with a constantly changing environment.

The Strategic Outlook provides multiple objectives that we need to achieve for each line of effort and overarching concepts to ensure long-term success.

So, I think this really gets to your question – how do we find balance? Well, we’ve given it some careful thought, we have put together a strategy that strikes that balance, and now we’re executing that strategy to keep this gift safe and secure.

Q: Following on from that question, does the USCG have much involvement with other Department of Transport - and their associated agencies?

RADM. Nadeau: The USCG is part of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) – but we used to be in the Department of Transportation until 2003, when we were moved into the newly created DHS. However, we still work closely with the Department of Transportation and its different components, particularly the Maritime Administration (MARAD).

We also work closely with the US Army Corps of Engineers - they are integral to the proper maintenance and operations of our inland waterways, and the growth and development of US ports.

We coordinate closely with MARAD, the US Army Corps of Engineers, and other Federal partners to achieve our common goals and objectives.

Q: I believe at CMA Shipping 2020 you will be part of a panel discussing Brown Water. America's inland waterways offer a global economic competitive advantage. What are the USCG doing to invest in the waterways of the future?

RADM. Nadeau: More than 10,000 miles of waterways, including the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway and Mississippi, Ohio, Missouri and other western rivers are located within the Eighth District. I just came back from a trip up to Missouri, Illinois, and Iowa where I visited 5 of our river buoy tenders on the upper Mississippi and Illinois Rivers.

There is somewhere on the order of 4,000 tow boats that are constantly moving tens of thousands of barges carrying petroleum, grain, soybeans, and other bulk cargoes along thousands of miles of waterways. We have a total of 25 inland buoy tenders and inland construction tenders in the Eighth District that are distributed across the rivers. Most people do not realise that we service all the navigation aids on the rivers and keep the good water marked - as the water levels rise and drop, and the silting and shoaling occur - so that the tows can safely move tonnes and tonnes of cargo.

We recently came off high water in the Mississippi - for a record-breaking length of time – and most of the experts I have spoken to have told me we should expect to have more of that in the future.

Now that the water level has dropped and the extreme currents have subsided, commercial traffic is able to resume – but the heavy flow of water has altered and shifted the bottom of the rivers. We now have obstructions and shoaling where none existed before. We've seen a tremendous uptick in tow boat groundings, causing costly delays. As the water level changes, our inland cutters run the rivers to find the good water, set buoys, and mark it to facilitate continuous trouble-free movement of traffic up and down the river.

These inland buoy and construction tenders are vital to the marine transportation system and safe commerce, but they are over 50 years old. We are eager to recapitalise this fleet and have launched an acquisition to invest in new capability and ensure that we can continue executing this important mission. It's very important work that we are focussed on and we recognise the criticality of it, and we're committed to continuing it.

Beyond that, we can talk about mitigating risks to critical infrastructure as we've got to have resiliency in the whole system. We must enhance the union of effort across the whole list of partners that we work with.

Rear Admiral John Nadeau, commander, Eighth Coast Guard District; Rep. Steve Scalise

Rear Admiral John Nadeau, commander, Eighth Coast Guard District; Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA1); Army Colonel Stephen Murphy, commander and district engineer, New Orleans District, and Dwayne Bourgeois, executive director, North Lafourche Levee District board a Coast Guard MH-60 Jayhawk Helicopter at Lakefront Airport in New Orleans.


We are working to modernise our aging navigation system and improve how we use information. We want to provide mariners a real-time status of the waterways - the latest information tides and currents, and other important data - so they have the best possible information to help them make navigation decisions.

We are also taking action to ensure we are properly leveraging our third parties, too. We want to be sure we are being smart about how we apply our workforce and certain that we are leveraging those third parties, taking advantage of the work they can do, and providing proper oversight of their work.

Finally, we need to make sure that we are continually improving our internal processes and taking advantage of technology. We need an adaptive workforce to keep pace with the constantly changing environment.

Rear Adm. John Nadeau joins a distinguished speaker panel at CMA Shipping 2020. The event is the largest international shipping event in North America and brings together the key players in the industry. Read more about CMA Shipping 2020 here.

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