WASHINGTON - Thousands of U.S. ports and ships will have to toughen security against the threat of terrorism under rules issued by the Homeland Security Department on Tuesday.
Much of the cost will be borne by the maritime industry.
Some 10,000 ships and 5,000 coastal facilities will be required to assess their vulnerabilities, hire and train security officers and purchase security equipment. The nation's 361 ports will have to establish security committees, draft security plans and hold training drills and exercises.
Under the rules, people waiting to board large passenger ships, including ferries, could be subject to the types of body and baggage screening now in place at airports. But a Coast Guard official said that would happen only during times when the nation's terror alert has been raised to "orange," and only on certain ships deemed most vulnerable.
The regulations also will force the owners of 4,121 domestic ships to buy and install transponders so their identity and movements can be continuously tracked.
"These rules are an essential element in the Department of Homeland Security's national strategy," Vice Adm. Thad Allen, the Coast Guard's chief of staff, said at a news conference. "They provide templates to strengthen security measures for our ports and for those who do business in our ports."
Several experts, including Transportation Secretary Norman Y. Mineta, have said America's ports are the most vulnerable segment of the transportation industry today. Ninety-five percent of international cargo to the United States is carried by ship.
The new rules, which will become final late this year after one more public review, apply security protocols typically associated with international seafaring to many domestic vessels, public ports and other piers, terminals and loading docks.
The Coast Guard estimates the cost to ports, ships, coastal facilities and offshore oil drilling units will exceed $7.3 billion over the next 10 years.
The Homeland Security Department has distributed $337 million in grants to ports and facilities and later this year will release an additional $105 million. Still, Asa Hutchinson, undersecretary for border and transportation security, acknowledged the maritime industry will have to assume much of the cost of making itself more secure.
The rules focus on parts of the maritime industry deemed at greatest risk of a transportation security incident, including tankers, barges, large passenger ships, cargo and towing vessels, offshore oil and gas platforms and port facilities that handle dangerous cargo.
Allen said the Coast Guard sought maximum flexibility because ports and ships have such varying vulnerabilities and needs.
"As the saying goes, if you've been to one port, you've been to one port," he said.
The six rules that took effect Tuesday are interim rules that implement the Maritime Transportation Security Act, which was enacted last year.
Juneau Empire ©2014. All Rights Reserved.