01 July 2004

Coast Guard to inspect all foreign ships

Coast Guard to inspect all foreign ships


BAYONNE, N.J. -- The Coast Guard launched an ambitious maritime anti-terrorism program Thursday when it started inspecting every foreign ship coming to a U.S. port to make sure it has taken steps to improve security.

Ships that fall short of international standards could be barred from U.S. ports, or allowed in under Coast Guard escort and forced to hire security guards while docked.

In addition, the Coast Guard will soon begin inspecting ports in 135 countries to evaluate their security. Ships that have docked in ports found to have weak security could be barred from the United States or subject to increased Coast Guard scrutiny that would delay their arrival and add costs.

Experts fear the inspections could isolate nations -- most likely poor ones -- with weak port security by blocking their exports to the United States.

'The Coast Guard can effectively bankrupt a country by barring its ships,' said Kim Petersen, president of SeaSecure Inc., a maritime security consultant, and executive director of the Maritime Security Council, a shipping industry group.

The inspections are tied to an international maritime treaty proposed by the United States shortly after the Sept. 11 attacks to create the first worldwide security standards for ships and ports.

Each of the 147 countries that signed the treaty in 2002 must certify that its ports and the ships registered there comply with the International Ship and Port Facility Security codes.

The codes, which took effect Thursday, require such measures as fencing and security guards at ports to control access. Ships must restrict who gets on and enters areas such as the bridge and engine room, and must have a security officer."

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