- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 29, 2004

Port security officials said yesterday that new rules taking effect tomorrow are no guarantee against a terrorist attack in the country’s waterways but are an improvement over security of three years ago.

The regulations will require ports and ships entering any international port to show proof of emergency plans and having met security standards set by the United Nations.

U.S. ports, which will comply with the international regulations, will be able to detect a threat, such as a “dirty bomb,” but not necessarily be able stop one, said Asa Hutchinson, Department of Homeland Securityundersecretary for border and transportation security.

“Is it possible for a radiological device [dirty bomb] to get through …? There always can be a means,” Mr. Hutchinson said. “But I believe we have the systems in place, and it’s our job to make sure those systems work.”

Under the new guidelines, ports will have additional law enforcement, ID checks, canine teams, surveillance cameras and background checks. Some of the new procedures are already in place.

Beginning tomorrow, no one will be able to enter the Port of Baltimorewithout a port pass or photo ID, said Jim White, executive director of the Maryland Port Administration. Before the September 11 attacks, a majority of ports nationwidecould be entered with a friendly wave of the hand, Mr. White said. The port has also installed surveillance cameras.

According to Coast Guard statistics, implementing the security plan in the United States will cost $7.3 billion over “a number of years,” said Philip J. Crowley, senior fellow and director of national defense and homeland security at the Center for American Progress. Agencies involved in the plan include the Coast Guard and Department of Homeland Security, as wells as port and ship owners.

Carl Bentzel, senior Democratic counsel on the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, said enforcement is a problem, specifically the reliance on documents verifying cargo and safety facilities.

Cargo is examined based on manifest data provided by the ship’s employees, which could prove false, Mr. Bentzel said.

“If you rely on paper [for security] — that goes for cargo and for facilities in ports — some crime has to occur before we actually have the posture that will allow us to be secure.”

Joe Cox, president of the Chamber of Shipping of America, which represents trade ships and vessels, is more optimistic.

“No ship is going to come into the United States on July 1 that doesn’t have a certificate attesting to its security preparedness,” Mr. Cox said. A noncomplying ship could enter a U.S. port without a certificate but would face tighter security.

“We just give it a little more scrutiny and ask that they follow certain procedures to make sure that that ship remains secure when they’re at a port that’s not secure overseas,” said Rear Adm. Larry Hereth, director of port security of the Coast Guard.

A percentage of cargo will be inspected, said Coast Guard spokeswoman Jolie Shifflet. The percentage, which is not released to the public, will vary depending on a maritime security threat level, similar to the United States’ color-coded Homeland Security Advisory System.

The Coast Guard will work with the world’s noncomplying ports on compliance.

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