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American Shipper

Maritime security enforced by DHS — but it’s a big job

Maritime security enforced by DHS — but it’s a big job

   In an effort to counter the perception that state-owned Dubai Ports World would have free reign to give terrorists access to U.S. port facilities it plans to acquire, Department of Homeland Security officials have spent the past week stressing that terminal operators must follow tight security rules or risk strong penalties.

   But critics of the Bush administration’s progress on port security say that while the Coast Guard and Customs and Border Protection are well intentioned, they have not been given the resources to effectively carry out security programs put in place after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.

   As an indication that the Coast Guard is in charge of vessel and port facility security, top commanders said that the sea service has slapped 700 citations on terminal operators for security violations since July, 2004, when maritime transportation security regulations went into effect. In 44 cases, the Coast Guard shut down facilities or stopped cargo operations until the companies corrected the problems, which range from leaving access doors ajar to security guards who are asleep.

   In the vessel environment, the agency has boarded 16,000 foreign vessels and expelled or denied entry to 143 of them for not complying with provisions of the International Ship and Port Facility Security code.

   On Monday the Coast Guard expelled a vessel from the Port of New Orleans for not adhering to its required security plan, Rear Adm. Craig E. Bone, director of inspections and compliance, said at a conference in Washington. The 'Nurten Ana,' a Turkish-flag freighter, was supposed to have three security guards onboard for crew control while at berth, but only had one — and he was a wanted felon who fled when Coast Guard officers approached, spokeswoman Cheri’ Ben-Iesau, said.

   The vessel was allowed to return when the local agent for the company was able to provide the necessary security guards, but the operator will be fined, she said.

   To ensure that foreign ports are complying with the ISPS code, Coast Guard officers have visited ports in 44 countries, including four ports operated by Dubai Ports World, Bone said. The countries are responsible for more than 80 percent of maritime trade to the United States. Seven of the countries are not in compliance and will be notified shortly that they need to take corrective action or subject vessels that transit their ports to the risk of having to take extra security precautions or being turned away from U.S. territorial waters, DHS officials said.

   But the Coast Guard has only 20 inspectors, 13 for all of Europe, Africa, Latin America and Central America and seven for Asia, meaning that foreign ports do not get frequent checks, said Stephen Flynn, an authority on border and cargo security, on National Public Radio’s “Diane Rehm Show.”

   “There are more TSA security agents at one security checkpoint (at LaGuardia Airport) than the Coast Guard has received for the entire inspection system. This is not a credible system,” he said.

   Customs and Border Protection has now deployed 181 radiation portal monitors at seaports, officials said. Most of the radiation detectors are set up near truck gates to scan trucks as they exit the terminal. In some locations, the agency is also routing boxes past the passive detectors before they are loaded on trains at the dock. The radiation detectors scan 37 percent of arriving international cargo.

   CBP plans to have 294 of the drive-by monitors in place by the end of the fiscal year, covering 65 percent of inbound traffic, and hopes to have 80 percent coverage in 2007, Assistant Commissioner Jayson Ahern told the Senate Armed Services Committee last week. He said 621 of the machines are needed at seaports.

   Several lawmakers said during hearings this week that nuclear detection is a top priority, and that DHS should be given more money to accelerate its deployment of radiation portal monitors.

   The Bush administration has not always spent money allocated to port security for its intended purpose, which raises questions about how seriously the administration considered security when it signed off on the DP World transaction, Sen. Thomas Carper, D-Del., said Monday.

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