Coastguard to inspect all cruise ships

New measures will include monitoring passengers, crew, baggage and cargo

Posted: Sunday, June 20, 2004

Few heads turned on the Sun Princess on Thursday as two armed and uniformed Coast Guard petty officers walked through the cruise ship.

"It's a direct sign of the acceptance people have for security presence, police presence," said Petty Officer 2nd Class Todd Grant after leaving. "We get a lot of people thanking us."

Every ship that docks this season will get a Coast Guard visit during at least one of its stops in Juneau, said Lt. j.g. Dan Buchsbaum from the Coast Guard's local marine safety office.

And by July 1, vessels of all sizes, ports and offshore platforms will have to implement regulations from the Maritime Transportation Security Act signed by President Bush on Nov. 25, 2002.

A spokesman for the Department of Homeland Security said requirements will include detailed security plans and measures to monitor passenger, crew, baggage and cargo security.

Grant and Petty Officer 2nd Class Michael McClure said being seen is part of the point of cruise ship visits.

"The Coast Guard is present and cares about what's going on," Grant said. "Part of what we're doing is getting to know them, and they're getting to know us."

McClure said there also is a lot of "active information gathering."

Both do smile a lot while making their presence felt. But while both grew up in Juneau and have roots here, their role isn't as community greeters.

"We try to do as complete a tour of the vessel as possible," McClure said.

Grant said they develop a rapport with the ship personnel and learn the layout of the vessels. They won't see all of the ships themselves, but having people in the local office who know the layout would help if theyre needed.

Three months after Bush signed the MTSA legislation, the Coast Guard was transferred into the new Department of Homeland Security, Buchsbaum said. National security is a historic mission of the Coast Guard, he said. Whats changed is theres more of an emphasis.

On the bridge of the Sun Princess Thursday, second in command, Staff Captain Dino Sagani, chatted with the uniformed officers about his ships Coast Guard escort into port.

Buchsbaum said the escorts are random. The Coast Guard doesnt have the staffing or equipment to escort every ship. The Coast Guard still has regular patrols and search-and-rescue missions.

The escorts, though, are a precaution against a Cole-style attack. In 2000, the USS Cole, a destroyer, was attacked by two suicide bombers in a small explosives-laden boat in a Yemen harbor. The attack left 17 dead and 39 injured.

About 11 months later, terrorists attacked civilians at the World Trade Center.

Grant said the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks changed attitudes.

Sun Princess security officer Robert Williams said he has the same goals as the Coast Guard, and they work together. Hand in glove, the London resident said.

A few people were lounging on a deck high above the channel. Some were at the pool, but most had gone ashore.

People are on vacation at the moment, Williams said. But paying attention to security makes things safer for the passengers, he added.

Those returning had to display their identification and use their cards issued for the cruise. Each plastic card is coded so it will display the holders picture on a monitor as they reboard.

Tor Wallen, security officer at the Princess dock facility, said finding ship identification ashore wouldnt enable someone to get past the ships security station.

In Alaska waters the ship has to supply security stations on different levels, Williams said on his way to walking the Coast Guard officers through the empty disco. He pointed to equipment sitting unused on a level well above the gangway.

Thats the difference the tide makes, he said, adding that the tides arent as extreme in the Caribbean. Its like a cup of tea.

Sagani, who lives in Italy, said he loves working Alaska cruises, although the navigation can be more challenging. The Coast Guard is more than welcome on the bridge, he added. We want to make sure were doing everything right.

Williams said there are many things going on behind the scenes that people cant see, and he wont talk about.

The new regulations also are coupled with new international safety rules. Many vessels, including the large passenger ships, must have installed an Automatic Identification System, a device similar to an aircraft transponder that will signal locations and safety status. Buchsbaum said there also will be a device that will allow ships officers to signal immediately for help via satellite in the event of piracy or terrorism events.

The cruise ship industry level of security on board ship is very good, Grant said. He finds the things that they need to discuss to be minimal.

Its nice to have a few uniforms around, Williams said.

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