Ports called open to attacks

Transportation chief seeks security check of maritime workers

October 19, 2001|By Andrea K. Walker | Andrea K. Walker,SUN STAFF

Despite new security measures implemented since the Sept. 11 assaults on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, U.S. Transportation Secretary Norman Y. Mineta said yesterday that the country's ports are still vulnerable to terrorism attacks.

Mineta said that his department is working on legislation with Sen. Ernest F. Hollings, a South Carolina Democrat, to beef up security at waterways and ports.

"In aviation, our airports have a level of coordinated security pre-planning that allowed the FAA to respond quickly to threats in the aviation system on Sept. 11," Mineta told the Marine Transportation System National Advisory Council in Baltimore, which convened a two-day meeting at Baltimore's World Trade Center yesterday.

"We need to build the same kind of planning structure and response capability for our ports."

Since the attacks, the Coast Guard has increased port patrols and scrutiny of suspicious vessels, Mineta said. There are more on-board security checks, and the U.S. has recently started requiring ships to provide 96-hour notice before docking at any American port.

But Mineta said more can be done. One of his biggest concerns is the way ports handle the more than 17 million containers that are transported annually along the country's waterways.

"Although existing laws require the manifesting of all inbound cargo, we rely almost entirely on the data provided by shippers to carriers and consignees for information on container contents," Mineta said. "And, with very few exceptions, we cannot track a specific container once it leaves the seaport."

After his remarks, Mineta said he would like to see federal background checks on shippers and other maritime workers.

Security panel named

Mineta has established a National Infrastructure Security Committee to recommend security measures for all modes of transportation. A component of that committee included the creation of the Maritime Direct Action Group, which is working specifically on measures related to ports.

The Marine Transportation System National Advisory Council acts as an adviser to Mineta, and as part of its duties has also been making port security recommendations.

The council is made up of leaders from transportation firms, trade associations, environmental groups and others associated with the country's waterways.

"We've never ignored the security issue, it's always been on our radar," said Carol N. Lambos, an attorney who has worked on security recommendations with the council.

`Game plan has changed'

"Now the game plan has changed. It used to be that we focused on crime, drug intervention and terrorism. Now the emphasis is almost solely terrorism."

Mineta said the council plays a significant role in transforming maritime security.

"America needs the instincts and experience of the maritime stakeholder community in all of these deliberations," he said.

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