Seaport vulnerability ongoing concern

| 4/17/2003

Homeland Security Department Secretary Tom Ridge this month acknowledged Coast Guard efforts to evaluate the vulnerability of U.S. seaports are behind schedule.

"Everybody talks about port security, but they don't do anything about it," Sen. Ernest Hollings, D-SC, said earlier this month. Hollings is the ranking Democrat on the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee.

Under the Maritime Transportation Security Act, the federal government must conduct vulnerability assessments of every port and by July 2004 approve a security plan for each port, facility and vessel. But the fiscal 2004 budget request contains no money for the added duties because it was drawn up before the new law was passed, CongressDaily reports.

So far, the Coast Guard has completed 13 of the assessments and expects to do another four this year, Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Thomas Collins told a House transportation and infrastructure subcommittee.

The Coast Guard says those completed are mainly medium-sized ports and include Honolulu; Guam; Savannah, GA; Baltimore; Charleston, SC; Boston; Portland, ME; San Diego; Corpus Christi, TX; Beaumont/Port Arthur, TX; Lake Charles, LA; Portland, OR; and Detroit.

Cargo and port legislation

Meanwhile, legislative efforts continue in an effort to boost port security.

A bill (S. 746) introduced by Sens. Dianne Feinstein, D-CA, and Jon Kyl, R-AZ, would require high-risk shipping containers to be inspected in foreign ports before they reach the United States and establish a profiling plan so U.S. authorities can focus inspections on high-risk cargo. It would also require minimum federal security standards at ports, use of high-security seals on all incoming containers and universal transaction numbers that can trace the container's movement from origin to destination.

Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-LA, is sponsoring a bill (S. 193) calling for a demonstration project to evaluate seaport radiation detection systems.

Moreover, port security is a component of larger border and transportation security bills offered by Sen. Pete Domenici, R-NM (S. 539), and Rep. Jim Kolbe, R-AZ (H.R. 1096), as well as Minority Leader Tom Daschle's first responders bill (S. 466).