San Diego Union-Tribune

November 3, 2001

Threats reveal a need for safe harbor

A sense of urgency feeds security efforts at America's vulnerable seaports


WASHINGTON -- The Sept. 11 attacks on America have added
urgency to efforts to improve security at the nation's seaports, where thousands of closed cargo containers, tankers and cruise ships could become terrorist weapons, officials said yesterday.

Congress, the shipping industry and the Coast Guard have warned that uncoordinated and under-financed security programs at U.S. harbors have created a problem of vulnerability that must be addressed quickly.

"What was OK on Sept. 10th is not adequate on the 11th of September
 and into the foreseeable future," said Adm. James Loy, the Coast Guard commandant.

Sen. Bob Graham, a Florida Democrat and a leader in efforts to enhance port security, said the country can't "wait for an attack on another major segment of our society. There is no area where we have a greater responsibility to increase security than America's seaports."

Coordinated approach

Chris Koch, president of the World Shipping Council, said each element of the maritime industry -- terminals, tankers, container ships and cruise ships -- "presents its own set of challenges" that demand a coordinated approach.

Loy said the attacks of Sept. 11 demonstrated a failure of the self-defense element of awareness.

"Infinitely more aware"

"We have to find a way to become infinitely more aware of what's
happening" in the coastal waters and harbors, Loy said.

Loy and Graham said better sharing of intelligence by the FBI,
Customs Service, Immigration and Naturalization Service, State
Department, the military and state and local authorities could
help prevent a major terrorist attack.

Graham said the 1,600 cargo containers unloaded at U.S. harbors daily are a major vulnerability. Less than 3 percent of those containers "are subjected to any form of effective monitoring," he said.

Also, there are no federal standards for port security, no financing for technology that could improve monitoring of the containers. Many ports, Graham said, "do not have a clue about the threats they face" because they've never conducted vulnerability surveys. 

Since Sept. 11, Loy said the Coast Guard has shifted much of its focus from drug interdiction and fisheries management to port protection.

That has involved greater efforts to control the movement of vessels coming into the port, including increasing the notice of arrival ships must give from 24 hours to 96 hours.

Increased presence

The Coast Guard has increased its presence in the ports to provide deterrence or to respond in case of a terrorist strike. The Coast Guard also has surveyed harbor facilities to prioritize use of its limited resources, and has appealed to other authorities for help, Loy said.

He cited the recent offer of help from the Navy and the Joint Forces Command, which is in charge of overall defense of the U.S coastline.

Loy said the Navy has transferred five coastal patrol craft, including two in San Diego, to augment the Coast Guard's cutters.