As many as 1 million U.S. seaport and ship workers must undergo background checks and obtain biometric identification cards as part of a federal program aimed at improving maritime security, according to Reuters.
The credentials will supplement, rather than replace, the security cards and clearances workers already must have, sowing doubts about the program among shipping companies and port operators, industry officials said at the Maritime Security Council's annual conference in Fort Lauderdale this week.
Enrollment in the U.S. Transportation Worker Identification Credential program, called TWIC, is scheduled to open next week at the Port of Wilmington in Delaware and expand to all U.S. seaports by August 2008.
It will affect 750,000 to 1 million stevedores, truck drivers, security guards and others working without escorts in secure port areas, said John Schwartz, assistant director of the Transportation Security Administration's TWIC program office.
Workers or their employers will have to pay $105.25 to $137.25 for the IDs, which require fingerprinting and federal background checks to ensure workers have legal employment status, aren't mentioned on terrorism intelligence databases and have no history of crimes such as smuggling or bribery.
Since the September 11 attacks on the United States, governments and security experts have repeatedly voiced fears about the vulnerability of the maritime industry, which carries more than 90 percent of the world's traded goods.
Schwartz said TWIC is an attempt to balance those concerns with commercial efficiency in order to prevent logjams at the ports. But the maritime community is skeptical.
Norwegian Cruise Line, faces the prospect of obtaining TWIC cards for 4,000 crewmen who already have merchant mariners' licenses and have undergone screening by the
NCL already screens 100 percent of the people, bags and goods entering its ships and uses terminals patrolled by police officers with dogs, he said.
Most states already require fingerprinting, training courses and background checks for security guards and have their own ID systems for port workers
. The ports themselves also require training and identification badges that can take up to a week to obtain.
TSA aims to issue the cards withing 10 days of enrollment but the current estimate is 30 days. It plans to eventually merge the TWIC and merchant mariners' cards, Schwartz said.
But the ports will have no authority to confiscate TWIC cards and will keep issuing their own credentials so that they can demand them back from workers who lose their jobs and no longer have valid reasons to enter the port, said the Port of Miami's security chief, Denise Minakowski.