- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 20, 2003


New antiterror rules could bring unreasonable costs and added delays for family-owned ferries, sightseeing cruise lines and riverboat casinos and could drive smaller companies out of business, maritime industry officials say.

Proposed rules would require ships that carry at least 150 passengers to pay for extra security and to screen all passengers, cargo and baggage. The Coast Guard may extend the rules to smaller vessels as well.

“If we have to treat people the way you treat people at the airport, then our business is done,” said Alan Circeo, whose family operates A.C. Cruise Line, which offers sightseeing, wedding and whale-watching cruises around Boston Harbor. “We’re in the entertainment business. Our competition is local restaurants, theaters and museums.”

The proposed rules also would affect companies such as Odyssey Cruises and Spirit Cruises Inc., which offer dinner cruises on the Potomac River. Potomac Party Cruises Inc. and Potomac Riverboat Co., both based in Alexandria, offer similar cruises and sightseeing tours.

Under a law enacted last year, many U.S. coastal facilities, ports and ships must develop security plans by July 2004 and pay for guards, alarms, cameras and metal detectors.

The Coast Guard will release interim rules next month. After more public review, the rules will become final in the fall.

“We understand that the costs of security can be seen as overwhelming,” Coast Guard spokeswoman Jolie Shifflet said. “However, we do believe we’ll be able to develop flexible measures to ensure that our maritime system is secure.”

More than 2,100 people attended seven public hearings on the proposed rules in January and February. The Coast Guard received 936 pages of written comments, many of them skeptical.

“We all know we live in a different world than we did a couple of years ago,” said Gary Frommelt, president of the Passenger Vessel Association.

“Generally speaking, however, you’re not going to be able to turn a passenger vessel into a weapon of mass destruction on the magnitude of an airplane. To put the full impact of these regulations on some of our operators really means they’d go out of business.”

Before the September 11 terror attacks, Congress was working on regulations to target theft and smuggling at ports. After the attacks, lawmakers turned the bill into a broader maritime security law to reflect enhanced security measures imposed on international shipping.

President Bush signed the bill into law in November.

The rules would force many domestic vessels, the nation’s 361 public ports and other piers, terminals and loading docks to comply with security protocols more typically associated with ships and ports involved in international seafaring.

Fishermen, tugboat operators and mobile offshore oil drillers are alarmed by the potential reach of the new rules.

“Fishing industry vessels and facilities are not likely targets of terrorist attack,” wrote a coalition of trade associations representing the fishing industry off Alaska.

People who have made careers on the sea — on cargo ships and passenger lines — worry that the security rules would make it difficult to take shore breaks.

Riverboat casinos in Illinois, Louisiana, Iowa, Missouri and Mississippi emphasized their existing security and general lack of mobility in hopes of fending off a requirement that they screen all their guests.

Operators of mobile oil drillers asked that they not be classified as ships.

The Coast Guard estimates that affected ships, ports and other facilities will have to spend $1.4 billion in the first year alone to hire and train security officers and to buy equipment.

In addition, many commercial and passenger ships may have to install transponders so their identities and movements can be tracked continuously.

A port security grant program distributed $92 million to 51 ports last year and was to allocate another $105 million this year.

Government officials say the maritime industry must assume it is a target for terrorists.

“The threat is definitely here,” Adm. Larry Hereth, director of port security for the Coast Guard, said at a public hearing. “I can tell you it’s real, and it’s not going to go away.”

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