Foreign-flagged vessels are targetedThe U.S. Coast Guard will board every foreign-flagged vessel that sails into a U.S. port beginning Thursday to check if it is complying with rules aimed at foiling terrorists.
A maritime treaty signed by about 150 countries requires each ship to have a security officer, alarm system, automatic identification system, access restrictions to the engine room and bridge, and a method of checking the IDs of people who board. Each ship must have a certificate signed by the country that flags it stating it is in compliance with the treaty.
Rear Adm. Larry Hereth said 700 Coast Guardsmen, including about 500 reservists, will be part of the effort to board all ships as they enter the ports.
"We're going to take a pretty hard line," said Hereth, the Coast Guard's director of port security.
Ensign Anthony Kenne, assistant surface operations officer at Air Station Astoria, said the new security requirements will not increase the number of boardings the group performs.
On the Net:Coast Guard: (http://www.uscg.mil)
International Maritime Organization: (http://www.imo.org)"It is not going to affect our current operations here in Astoria," he said. "We already go out on several of these commercial vessels every week and work closely with customs and border protection, and none of that will change."
He said inspections might take slightly longer, and that group Coast Guard officers might look at some of the security requirements, but they won't be involved in verifying security plans.
The Coast Guard has a range of sanctions that can be imposed on ships that fail to meet the standards, depending on what the problem is, Hereth said. An administrative glitch could be repaired onboard, he said, but if it should appear that the ship's operators have done little to comply the vessel could be turned away.
Coast Guardsmen also can detain a ship and require it to hire security guards until it has come into compliance. Or the Coast Guard can add points to the ship's risk-assessment score, which would mean that the ship is inspected the next time it calls at a U.S. port, Hereth said.
Joe Cox, president of the Chamber of Shipping of America, which represents U.S. ship owners, said he expects the Coast Guard to enforce strictly the requirement that each vessel has a signed certificate saying it complies with the standards.
"I don't think there's a ship around here dumb enough to come into U.S. waters without the certificate," Cox said.
Captain of the Port Paul Jewell, from the Marine Safety Office in Portland. said he is already aware of a grain ship docked in Portland that won't meet the new requirements.
"Unless they pull off some miracle today, they're going to learn that this country is serious about security regulations," he said.
Many foreign-flagged ships and overseas ports won't meet the standards, according to statistics provided by the International Maritime Organization, the United Nations agency that monitors shipping safety.
According to the IMO's most recent figures, 71 percent of tankers, 89 percent of cruise ships and 56 percent of cargo ships had certificates. Only 32 percent of port facilities had approved security plans required under the treaty.
Although ships and ports in most of Europe and Japan have complied, maritime facilities in some developing countries remain problematic, the IMO says.
The agency has no enforcement powers, however, and relies instead on the implicit economic threat to governments that don't comply with the new International Ship and Port Facility Security Code. For example, ships from countries that don't meet the higher standards might be refused port privileges by nations that have.
Hereth said the Coast Guard would pressure non-U.S. ports to tighten security so they meet the new standards.
Coast Guard spokeswoman Jolie Shifflet said ships sailing into U.S. waters increasingly were reaching the standards. On Tuesday, 78 percent of the 192 foreign-flagged ships calling on U.S. ports were in compliance, up from 65 percent the previous two days.
"We're projecting that to continue to rise," Shifflet said, adding that 142 of the 150 ships that plan to enter U.S. ports on Thursday said they have the certificates.
Thursday is the deadline for U.S. ports to comply with a maritime security law passed by Congress in November 2002. All but a handful of the thousands of port facilities and vessels will be up to U.S. security standards, Shifflet said.