- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 31, 2003

Almost 5,000 ships and more than three-fourths of the nation’s ports, ferry terminals and fuel-chemical tank farms failed to meet a deadline yesterday for submitting maritime security plans showing how they will address terrorism threats.

Security measures to prevent attacks from the sea have fallen far behind efforts to protect airports and airplanes since the September 11 attacks.

Congress last year ordered the maritime shipping industry to tighten security amid fears that an attack on a seaport could kill thousands, cause tremendous property damage and mean tens of billions of dollars in lost revenue for the U.S. economy.

Coast Guard officials said the deadline for submitting the plans was met by about 5,200 of 10,000 ships told to submit them and by only 1,100 of 5,000 port facilities — despite a potential fine of $25,000.

“We do not have all the plans,” Lt. Cmdr. Jeff Carter said. “We recognize that despite our best efforts, there are those who won’t comply for a variety of reasons.”

Yesterday was also the deadline for airports to start screening all airline baggage electronically for explosives. But Deputy Homeland Security Secretary James Loy told Congress two months ago that the deadline would not be met at five airports.

“A handful” of airports still don’t have the screening equipment installed, said Darrin Kay-er, a Transportation Security Administration spokes-man.

In the aftermath of the September 11 attacks, Congress required the electronic screeners to be in place a year ago. But when it became clear it couldn’t be met, lawmakers moved the deadline back a year.

One reason ships, ports and other facilities are missing their deadlines is they were given too little time, said Maureen Ellis, a spokeswoman for the Association of American Port Authorities. The government didn’t finalize what it wanted until Oct. 22, although the industry was told July 1 it had six months to submit the plans.

Miss Ellis also said some ports found the regulations and requirements to be overwhelming. The “plan-review approval form” for cruise-ship terminals, for example, is 20 pages long.

The new law requires a difficult attitude adjustment, said Thomas Allegretti, president of the American Waterways Association, which represents owners and operators of tugboats and barges. It’s hard for tugboat captains, used to worrying about running aground, to suddenly start thinking about a terrorist hijacking an oil tanker and turning it into a floating bomb, he said.

The tugboat and barge industry submitted plans to the Coast Guard that include training crews about potential threats, securing vessels’ perimeters and restricting access to vessels, Mr. Allegretti said.

Cmdr. Richard Teubner said the Coast Guard expects to get plans in the mail next week from many ports, stevedoring companies, offshore oil drillers and shipowners.

The plans have to be implemented by July 1, when the Coast Guard can start turning away ships and shutting down ports that don’t comply.

James Carafano, a homeland security analyst with the Heritage Foundation, expects major ports will meet the July deadline. Otherwise, he said, “the economic consequences are too horrifying to contemplate.”

For others, coming up with the money for fences, guards, lights or closed-circuit television will be difficult, Miss Ellis said.

“It’s one thing to come up with a plan to see what you need to do, but it’s a whole other issue how it’s going to be paid for,” she said.

The General Accounting Office, the investigative arm of Congress, agrees that paying for the security upgrades will be a challenge. “Where the money will come from to meet these funding needs is not clear,” the congressional auditors said in a Dec. 15 letter to Sen. Ernest F. Hollings, South Carolina Democrat.

As one example, the new regulations require more than 4,000 U.S. ships to install transponders that transmit signals, giving port officials early warning of any unidentified vessel. But only a few ports have the money for installing the equipment to receive the signals, the GAO said.

The Coast Guard estimates that meeting the new requirements will cost $7.4 billion over the next decade.


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