- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 20, 2001

Cargo was flowing freely through U.S. ports yesterday, eight days after terrorists destroyed New York's World Trade Center and damaged the Pentagon. But shippers now face the prospect of permanent, heightened security to avoid attacks on port facilities, a change that may yet squeeze international trade flows.
"I'm knocking on wood, but so far freight is still moving uninterrupted," said Bob Mehrige, director of police for the Virginia Port Authority, which oversees the three ports around Norfolk. "Everyone is ready to cooperate. No one is giving us any guff."
Before the Sept. 11 attacks, security officials simply waved through cars and trucks with a special bumper sticker into the terminal area.
"That is no more, and it will never be like that again," Mr. Mehrige said.
The status of Norfolk's port facilities, which move $30 billion worth of cargo from overseas each year, took on a particular importance owing to the presence of the adjoining Norfolk Naval Station, the nation's largest naval base. Norfolk is one of the nation's 13 "strategic commercial ports" that must be available to the military on 48 hours' notice.
Monday, officials huddled for a meeting of the port's Emergency Readiness Committee, a group that includes port authorities, but is headed by the Coast Guard, to map strategy for warding off any new attacks. High on the list are ships that contain hazardous materials.
"They're very concerned about any kind of vessel that contains flammables," said one official who asked not to be identified.
At the Port of Baltimore, visitors are no longer allowed to roam free in the terminal facilities, but must be accompanied by an authorized person, spokeswoman Kate Philips said. Employees in Baltimore's nearby World Trade Center, an office building where many port officials work, have been issued photo-identification cards, she added.
In New York and New Jersey, cargo was moving briskly, even as other forms of transportation groaned under the effect of last week's attacks.
"Overall, the ports have faced the fewest problems of all our facilities," said Dave Jamieson, a spokesman for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which runs not only the area's seaports, but its airports, bridges and tunnels. "Things are moving smoothly, though I don't know whether we are at 100 percent."
Security for seaports is handled jointly by port authorities, who keep tabs on cargo terminals and warehouses, and the Coast Guard, which patrols waterways.
The Coast Guard is also keeping a wary eye on waterways outside seaports, especially in the Washington area.
Coast Guard vessels continued to enforce a security zone on the Potomac River between the Woodrow Wilson Memorial Bridge and the mouth of Rock Creek, near Roosevelt Island. The area is open during the day, but is closed to all traffic, including recreational boats, between 7 p.m. and 7 a.m. unless the boaters have prior approval from the Coast Guard.
The attacks in New York and Washington seem sure to speed passage of federal legislation that would create federal guidelines there currently are none for security at seaports, according to a congressional aide.
Sen. Ernest F. Hollings, South Carolina Democrat, and Sen. Bob Graham, Florida Democrat, introduced the Port and Maritime Security Act of 2001 in July, and the Senate Commerce Committee approved the bill in August. It would encourage the use of cargo-scanning technology and bomb-sniffing dogs at ports.
If time permits, the Senate will vote on the bill this week, the congressional aide said.
The Arlington-based American Association of Port Authorities said in July that a new federal program for seaport security was "unnecessary." Spokeswoman Eileen Denne said the group now supports the bill, but adds that ports need additional federal money for security.

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