Increased security measures at sea

Cruising: Aboard ship, passengers will notice new identification rules, more baggage inspection and other safeguards.


November 04, 2001|By Alfred Borcover | Alfred Borcover,Chicago Tribune

Cruise passengers are getting a double dose of security. If you're flying to your port of embarkation, you'll first get scrutinized at the airport. Then, when you arrive at the ship, you'll go through another thorough screening.

Since Sept. 11, cruise lines have been operating at Level III security, the highest level ordered by the U.S. Coast Guard, which oversees the enforcement of security issues.

"The cruise industry's highest priority is to ensure the safety and security of all our passengers and crew," said J. Michael Crye, president of the International Council of Cruise Lines, a Washington-based trade group involved with cruise ship safety, security, health and other regulatory matters. He recently testified before a Senate subcommittee on cruise ship security.

As at the airport, Crye said, passengers can expect to have all their baggage, including carry-ons, inspected before boarding the ship. Baggage is X-rayed, hand-checked or both. Passengers go through metal detectors. Cruise lines inspect all provisions and cargo loaded on board. Other measures cited by Crye:

* 100 percent positive identification of each and every passenger and crew member who goes on and off the ship.

* Security perimeters around terminals and the ships.

* Onboard security that includes restricted access to sensitive ship areas such as the bridge and engine room.

Passengers now must show a valid passport or a birth certificate (original or certified copy) plus a photo ID card issued by a federal, state or local government agency. Voter registration and Social Security cards are not considered to be proof of citizenship. Children under 16 years of age are not required to have a photo ID card. Non-U.S. citizens boarding a cruise ship must have valid passports and visas in addition to Alien Registration Cards if they are living in the United States.

All passenger lists are made available in advance to the Immigration and Naturalization Service and U.S. Customs for screening to ensure that anyone on the INS "prevent departure" list is reported to authorities.

Most cruise ships now use Passenger Access Control Systems for passenger identification. Passengers are photographed at the time of boarding and issued a scannable ID card. Photos also are scanned into a shipboard computer. Each time they get off or reboard the ship, passengers have their identification checked.

Company precautions

In addition to Coast Guard-prescribed measures, cruise lines have initiated their own precautions.

Carnival Cruise Lines, the world's largest with 16 ships, inspects all provisions for explosives, pats down crew members as they board, screens passengers through metal detectors at every port of call and X-rays all purchases bought during port stops.

Carnival said it also sends divers to check the hull at every port, and, as the line put it, has "a number of other initiatives under way which are inappropriate to be disclosed."

Carnival ships carry a 9- to 11-person uniformed security force. "Larger ships have more security than small ships, and ships on a short cruise [which attracts a younger, party crowd] have more than those on longer itineraries," explained Tim Gallagher, Carnival's spokesman. Ships also carry plainclothes security, but he wouldn't elaborate on numbers.

While Princess Cruises doesn't go into specifics, its security statement says: "The company maintains a stringent security plan approved by the U.S. Coast Guard, and [has] implemented all of the protection measures specified by that plan, as well as those of the various ports we visit. These measures are intended to secure the ship against any probable or imminent threat to the vessel or the terminal."

The Coast Guard requires all cruise ships to have a trained security staff, and to submit a security plan for an annual review.

Despite the beefed-up security, most ships are departing on schedule.

"The U.S. Coast Guard is in its largest port security operation since World War II," said Cmdr. Jim McPherson, chief spokesman on policy matters in Washington. "Port captains look at intelligence, threat assessment and resources daily to decide on the level of security to be imposed. We want a high level of security, but we can't impede the flow of commerce."

Coast Guard protection

Since Sept. 11, the Coast Guard has taken steps to protect cruise ships and their passengers. "Every flagged vessel coming into the United States must give 96 hours' notice to the Coast Guard before it comes into port," McPherson said. "It used to be 24 hours. We check every crew and passenger manifest.

"We're working closely with other law-enforcement agencies, and we share all our information. We just opened a new center in Martinsburg, Va., to serve as a clearinghouse for all information pertaining to vessels coming in and out of U.S. ports."

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