Blanket Vessel Security Inspections Start July 1
USCG may respond to security gaps with restrictions, denial of entry
WASHINGTON, DC - 04/05/04 - Every foreign merchant ship headed for a US port after July 1 will be boarded and inspected by the US Coast Guard (USCG) before it will be permitted to anchor or berth.
Under a law designed to protect US ports and waterways from terrorist attack, the Coast Guard will have authority to insure that foreign ships have security plans and that the plans have been properly implemented, said US Coast Guard Commandant Admiral Thomas Collins in recent testimony before the Senate Commerce Committee.
The International Ship and Port Facility Security Code - a multilateral ship and port security code adopted by a majority of International Maritime Organization (IMO) member countries including the US - requires nations to submit port and ship security plans to their national authorities before a July 2004 deadline.
Ships from those countries should carry a security certificate issued by their respective maritime agencies, said Collins, who added that "the US is working with the IMO to help other countries comply with the new security requirements."
According to Collins, the USCG - which previously acted as part of the Department of Transportation before being shifted the Department of Homeland Security following the 9/11 terrorist attacks - is prepared to take enforcement action "against any vessel not complying with the IMO code, including additional inspections, limitations on the ship's operations and, in the most severe cases, detention and denial of entry to a US port."
In prepared testimony, he said that the Coast Guard, working with other federal agencies, plans to identify foreign ports posing a potential security risk to international maritime transportation.
Under the plan, Collins, who was to his post?in May 2002, told the Committee, US security teams will begin visiting foreign ports in July to assess their implementation of the IMO code. As for US ports, the USCG will complete their security assessments by the end of 2004.
Senator Bill Nelson (D-Florida) expressed particular concern about vessels coming from Caribbean ports, some of which, he said, are unlikely to meet the July 1 deadline.
Collins responded by saying that ships arriving from non-compliant foreign ports or countries that have not adopted the IMO code will be up for additional, but as for now unspecified, scrutiny.
On another issue, he said that the USCG is working with the IMO "to develop requirements for technology able to track vessels in a range of 2,000 nautical miles (the approximate distance from the US coastline a ship owner must transmit a 96-hour advance notice of ship's arrival)."
He said the Coast Guard plans to submit a proposal to the IMO on such technology within the next two months.
US Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Robert Bonner, who also testified before the Committee, said that another international security program designed to prevent terrorist attacks - the container security initiative (CSI) initiated by the agency - has been "well-received and broadly accepted" around the world.
Under bilateral CSI agreements, US Customs inspectors target US-bound high-risk cargo containers in foreign ports for additional inspections by their local counterparts.
Bonner said that by the end of 2004 more than 30 foreign ports that handle large volumes of US-bound cargo are expected to participate in CSI.
In the future, he said, when CSI expansion reaches a critical mass of broad worldwide coverage, the US may consider allowing in only those cargo containers coming from ports in the CSI network.
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