FIGHTING TERRORISM BEGINS AT OVERSEAS PORTS
U.S. maritime security officials believe the war against terrorism should begin before cargo vessels arrive at the nation’s seaports.
“The U.S. government must recognize that the leading edge of the boundary for our homeland defense is, in fact, foreign ports,” said Kim E. Petersen, executive director of the Maritime Security Council, at a hearing before the Senate Subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere and Fisheries on Thursday.
“The transitional nature of terrorism requires, by definition, a foreign launching point for attacks upon our country,” Petersen said. “This requires not only an understanding on our part of the security posture of foreign ports of origin of goods and passengers coming to our country, but also preparedness for us to help these ports elevate their standards of security to levels we feel are appropriate and mirror those within our own borders.”
The Maritime Security Council, which serves as security advisor to the State Department, has audited more than 160 ports in over 106 countries.
“It is nothing less than frightening to see how little security there is in some foreign ports that see ships depart and sail directly into Miami or New York,” Petersen said. “With the potential of weapons of mass destruction finding their way into the hands of terrorists, one can easily deduce the risk we face should we continue to ignore the security of these foreign ports.”
The Coast Guard has authority to assess foreign port assessments, but often due to budget shortfalls fewer than five, if at all, are conducted annually.
“In some cases the assessments were canceled altogether, due to the target ports being deemed ‘too dangerous’ for military personnel to visit,” Petersen said. “And yet, these same ports were not too dangerous for cruise lines to visit carrying thousands of American citizens on holiday.”
The Maritime Security Council launched an initiative in 1997 to categorize and evaluate the world’s seaports through the application of a “tiered rating scale,” which took into account aspects such as cargo/passenger throughput and Gross National Product. The International Maritime Organization expressed interest in working with the council on this project, which it believes could be used to increase security in developing country ports.
“We feel that it is appropriate for the Coast Guard to continue to manage this essential program,” Petersen said. “But rather than task its own constrained resources, it should contract with expert civilian companies to perform these foreign port security audits on its behalf. There is a critical need to see at least 25 ports audited on an annual basis, the cost of which would be a budget of less than $1 million dollars per year.”