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U.S. Ports' Security Funding is Lacking

by Rip Watson, Bloomberg News
Seattle Times, August 26, 2004

WASHINGTON -- U.S. ports remain vulnerable to terrorist attacks because the nation lacks a comprehensive transport security plan and enough funding to protect maritime facilities, a federal commission member said.

"No strategic analysis has been done that relates the level of risk to resources that have been allocated," former Navy secretary John Lehman, a member of the commission that reviewed the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, told a House hearing yesterday.

There is "serious underfunding" of port security and the Coast Guard, which has primary responsibility for the task, he said.

Ports have received $516 million of transportation security funds, 10 percent of what's needed, former U.S. Coast Guard commander Stephen Flynn told a House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee panel in Washington. Aviation gets 90 percent of such funding, he said.

U.S. ports annually process goods valued at an estimated $800 billion, according to the World Shipping Council, a Washington-based trade group. Anti-terrorism steps taken so far include barring ships that don't meet new global security rules.

"We have a global economy that is utterly interdependent. As such it is an almost irresistible target," said Lehman, who urged that Navy ships and officers be used to help the Coast Guard. "Maritime security is much more difficult to deal with than aviation. There is a much greater geographic area."

The U.S. has 95,000 miles of coastline and about 26,000 miles of navigable waterways, according to information presented to the committee's Coast Guard and maritime transportation subcommittee. There are about 500 U.S. commercial airports.

Steps such as image scanning of containers at ports would add about $50, or less than 2 percent, to the cost of a typical shipment, said Flynn, now a fellow at the Council of Foreign Relations in New York. Hutchison International Port Holdings, the biggest port operator, will test image scanning this year in Hong Kong, he said.

At the Port of Seattle, most of the security is handled by the Coast Guard, which has set up several new ways to improve safety, spokesman David Schaefer said.

One new rule requires all ships coming into the harbor to provide the Coast Guard with a list of a ship's cargo and names of its crew before it arrives at the Port. The Port also has improved lighting, fencing, X-ray machines and cameras for better surveillance and cargo inspection.

Other improvements are on their way, Schaefer said, now that the ports of Seattle and Tacoma have received joint grants totaling about $27.5 million from a program called "Operation Safe Commerce." The money has been used to research and test new technology to keep a closer eye on what comes into the port, Schaefer said.

But while the port has made significant improvements since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, it has a lot of work to do.

About 21,000 shipping containers come into the U.S. daily, and only 4 to 6 percent of them are examined, Schaefer said.

"In comparison to what we've done at airports, improvements in port security have been less," Schaefer said. "That doesn't mean ports are not safe or that we haven't had significant changes."

Rip Watson, Bloomberg News
Seattle Times business reporter Blanca Torres contributed to this report.
U.S. Ports' Security Funding is Lacking
Seattle Times, August 26, 2004

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