Maritime Security Deadline Passes
Less than half of US vessels, terminals submit safety plans
WASHINGTON, DC - 1/13/04 - A final tally shows that only about 5,000 of 10,000 US-registered vessels and only 1,100 of 5,000 US port facilities and terminals met the January 1 deadline for submitting government-mandated maritime security plans, according to the US Coast Guard.
Sources at a number of California ports and ocean terminals contacted for this story would not comment on their compliance status citing security concerns.
Last year, Congress ordered the maritime shipping industry to tighten security amid fears that an attack on a seaport could kill thousands of people, cause tremendous property damage, and cost tens of billions of dollars in lost revenue to the US economy.
According to industry sources, there were a number of reasons why the deadline was missed, despite a $25,000 fine for every separate violation.
Maureen Ellis, a spokeswoman for the Association of American Port Authorities, told the AP that "they [terminal and vessel operators] were given too little time and the plans themselves were overwhelming."
The "plan review approval form" for cruise ship terminals, for example, is 20 pages long, she said.
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 government didn't finalize what it wanted until last October 22, though the industry was told last July 1 they had six months to submit the plans. Ellis also said some ports found the regulations and requirements to be "overwhelming."
The plans have to be implemented by next July 1, when the Coast Guard can start turning away ships and shutting down facilities that don't comply.
James Carafano, a homeland security expert with the Heritage Foundation in Washington, DC, expects major ports will meet the upcoming 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 TV will be difficult, 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 (GAO), Congress's investigative arm, 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 recent letter to Sen. Ernest Hollings (D-SC).
For example, the new regulations require more than 4,000 US ocean-going ships, and other vessels such as tugboats and barge tractors, to install transponders that transmit a signal, giving authorities early warning of the approach of an unidentified vessel.
But only a handful of 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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