Tuesday, June 29, 2004

U.S.-Florida – Say Good-bye to Carefree Ship Travel. Ports Prepare for Global Security Deadline

Ports all over the world are scrambling to meet the July 1, 2004 deadline to bring in line
with new regulationsand restrictions to counter implied threats. Port masters, cruise and cargo ships have been informed of tough new regulations that already have cost billions of dollars to implement and millions of training hours, audits and efforts since 2002. And still, many are not ready.

Ships move 80 percent of the world’s trade, and 30 percent of the U.S. economy relies on ship traffic. Florida relies heavily on trade with the Caribbean basin and Latin America and about 14 millions passengers and $46 million worth of goods pass through Florida ports yearly.

The problem isn’t with U.S. registered ships. Most vessels have complied or are near, but many ports in smaller and poorer nations lack the technical resources and funds. The U.S. Coast Guard had broad powers to stop ships off the coast if they can’t prove 24-hour advanced certification of goods, crew, and passengers. This means that ships must inform who and what is on that ship before it enters U.S. waters or it will not be permitted to enter port, or even possibly turned back.

The United Nations discussed the issue through the International Maritime Organization, IMO, and approved a two-part plan. The IMO required all member nations to draft security plans and to meet certain standards, but some of the guidelines are recommended, not mandatory. Some developing nations are not happy with the guidelines as they “protect the United States from terrorists attacks,” but are “an unfunded mandate on the backs of the developing world.”

Finding the money to meet the new rules is a struggle for all, even for U.S. ports. The Coast Guard estimates the cost of compliance in the United States alone to exceed $7.35 billion over 10 years. The federal government has handed out $516 in port security grants, less than 10 percent of that estimate, and final outlays may be to be higher because of “hefty recurring expenses for guards and other services.”

Many developing countries are having a harder time.
Many of their ports often start out lacking such basics as access controls and alarms. Plus, with their governments cash-strapped, they must scramble to seek funds elsewhere, including the World Bank.

Still, facing U.S. reprisals, many nations have found the means to comply. In the Caribbean, for example, Jamaica has met the deadline, as will ports in Trinidad-Tobago, St. Kitts and Barbados, among others, the SeaSecure audit found.

Ports in politically troubled Haiti and elsewhere remain unlikely to meet the deadline, executives said.

Ports that miss the grade will be able to implement an “alternative program” with some “temporary security measures, such as armed guards where a fence should be,” but it is understood that such standards will eventually have to be improved.
The Coast Guard is not going to throw the equivalent of a barbed wire fence across U.S. ports on July 1, 2004, “but for specific ports and specific vessels, there may be a slowdown, a curtailment.”

World shipping is concerned with maritime terrorism because the al-Qaeda network has attacked and sunk vessels in recent years or tried and planned to do so, and has shown unusual interest in learning how to maneuver vessels of all sizes, leading those concerned with port security to believe that tankers or other ships could be used as a bomb to shut down major ports or choke points, such as the Panama Canal or Suez Canal. Shipping commerce could be stifled or stopped for years or decades if they were successful.

Other concerns deal with the 15 million containers that criss-cross the globe by sea and make over 230 million journeys each year. Some 7 million containers arrive annually to the U.S. by sea. It is impossible to check each one. Worldwide, less than 1% of shipped cargo is screened for explosives, radioactive substances or other dangerous materials. by use of X-ray and gamma-ray devices. Human traffic has been known to be smuggled in these containers..Officials and counter-terrorism experts have warned that the next step may be an attack using chemical, biological, radiological, or nuclear weapons. The most dangerous possibility is that the terrorists might use a powerful radiological bomb or even a nuclear explosive device, concealed in one of these millions of cargo containers.

The costs of such an attack would be enormous and would bring world trade to a halt as well as eliminating the use of port. In human terms, the cost would be catastrophic. Although the new regulations are expensive and annoying, they are more than necessary to counter the threats of those that would destroy us and our way of life.


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