Mumbai attacks refocus US port security reform
Two controversial programs will step up monitoring of ships and port workers.
The November attacks in Mumbai (formerly Bombay) offered US officials an alarming illustration of how a band of well-organized terrorists can use a little creativity to stage an effective attack by sea. Its lessons were not lost on US officials in charge of securing American waters and ports.Skip to next paragraph
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They are pushing ahead with regulations that could change boating culture to give port officials better information about who is out there and with other projects designed to make ports safer.
Just as the attacks on 9/11 forced significant changes to the nation's aviation security system, the Mumbai incident indicates it's now time to apply that kind of security at sea level, says Adm. Thad Allen of the US Coast Guard.
"It's just to take that system and make it wet," he says.
Admiral Allen is overseeing the implementation of two controversial plans that he says will strengthen maritime security. The first is the creation of a new transportation worker identification card program through the Transportation Security Administration. The program will seek to register and identify about 1.2 million people whose work brings them into contact with ports, including those within the merchant marine community, longshoremen, and dockworkers.
The other plan is an automated identification system (AIS) that will require transponders on boats 65 feet and longer. Originally developed as a collision deterrence system, the system will use VHF radio waves to give US authorities a better picture of who is coming and going from some of the country's 360 ports.
The AIS could be fully up and running within a year. The idea is not unique to the US. Singapore, for example, uses a similar system and requires vessels as small as jet skis to have transponders.
But as Allen surveys the vulnerabilities across some 95,000 miles of US shoreline, he says a much broader security effort is needed, one that is aimed at building a system that incrementally removes security risk while balancing the needs of a boating and vessel culture that he says operates largely free of regulation.
"I don't think there is a generally-held consensus about what constitutes an adequate maritime security regime in a postwar, post-9/11 environment," he says.
Allen sees a need for a national debate about what degree of maritime security the US actually needs. He does not rule out creating a boat-driving licensing program that would mirror the kind of regulation implemented for automobiles almost 100 years ago.