Ready or Not, Here They Come
US ports are ready to meet July 1 security deadline, but most foreign ports aren't
LONG BEACH - 06/24/04 - America's ports are ready to meet the July 1 deadline for the maritime security standards outlined in the International Ship and Port Facility Security Code, said Homeland Security chief Tom Ridge during a recent tour of the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach.
The multilateral ship and port security code requires nations to submit port and ship security plans to their national authorities before the upcoming deadline and was adopted by the US and a majority of other International Maritime Organization (IMO) member countries.
After July 1, every foreign merchant ship headed for a US port will be boarded and inspected by the US Coast Guard (USCG) before it will be permitted to anchor or berth. Vessels not in compliance could be directed to anchor off-shore until compliance is confirmed or, in exceptional cases, be ordered back to sea.
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.
According to USCG Headquarters in Washington, DC, ships calling at US ports will be required to carry a security certificate issued by their respective maritime agencies.
Under the new guidelines, US officials would be allowed to verify the security of ships before they enter port and deny access to vessels that are not in compliance, Ridge said, adding "for the first time ever, through an international effort, there will be one world standard for ship and port security."
The USCG is also reportedly 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.
New domestic security programs - outlined under the Maritime Transportation Securities Act (MTSA) of 2002 - have additional requirements for US ports and ocean carriers,?also with a July 1 deadline.
Those programs may include more identification checks, additional screenings, more canine teams, higher fences, additional surveillance cameras, and expanded training for security personnel.
But, while US compliance efforts are "nearly complete," Ridge called past international security efforts often "isolated" and "uncoordinated."
"Shipping is a global industry. Terrorism is a global problem," Ridge told reporters. "Our collective security requires a global solution."
Ridge's comments come despite comments earlier this year by other government officials saying that another US-crafted international security program designed to prevent terrorist attacks - the Container Security Initiative (CSI) - has been "well-received and broadly accepted" around the world.
Foreign ports not meeting the deadline "could cause trade problems if countries like the US turn away [ships] or perform lengthy inspections on ships calling at ports that do not meet the new security standards," according to a recent article in SecurityBeat.com, a weekly on-line security industry newsletter.
By mid-June, it said, "only 654 of the 6,114 ports subject to the international security code were in compliance "and it looks like many of the remaining ports will not be ready by the deadline."
"Security experts say it's impossible for authorities in any country to check all of the millions of containers that travel around the globe even with scanners that can see inside containers and radiation detectors to guard against concealment of radioactive material," the newsletter said, stressing, though, "that even before the security rules were established, many ports had already tightened security."
In April, US Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Robert Bonner testified before Congress saying that, under current bilateral CSI agreements, US Customs inspectors will 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.
US security teams made up of USCG and US Customs personnel will begin visiting foreign ports next month to assess their implementation of the IMO code, he said.?
"No one in the shipping business believes that international trade will suddenly shut down," Jim Hunter, a partner with Merlin Risks, an international security firm that assesses maritime crime and terror threats and risks, recently told The Associated Press.
"People," he said, "are hoping as long as you are making a good faith effort to comply, you won't pay too high of a price for lack of performance."
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