The Threat Is Real

Thursday, January 24, 2002
One can only be troubled by the fact that there was at least one confirmed American fighting for the Al Qaeda. This young American, John Walker, was attending an Islamic school in or near Saudi Arabia when he became embroiled in the Al Qaeda (probably with his classmates). This means the extremist Islamic teachings that build terrorist mentality are not just in the Madrasus of poor Pakistan but are located in middle and upper class locales of Saudi Arabia and elsewhere in the Islamic world. The arrest in October of Armed Farid Rizk in a well appointed intermodal container bound for Canada must give one pause. The container was equipped with satellite phone, laptop computer and all the comforts of home. He had credentials giving access to airports in Canada, Egypt and Thailand. The stowaway must have had significant support in the port at which the container was loaded and expected support in the port of discharge. The stowaway was only detected in a third port. What other surprises can we expect to find in the thousands of containers which move on a daily basis?

It is very disquieting that depleted uranium has been found in an underground bunker in Afghanistan. Was this intended for use in Afghanistan or for exportation to some other country such as the U.S. for use as part of a "dirty bomb"? How will all of this effect international maritime trade? Part of the problem is that it is very difficult to fully define the threats to which our ports are being subjected. Are we concerned about protecting vessels that use our ports and waterways? Must we only be concerned about protecting our port facilities, be they passenger terminals, bulk liquid terminals, or container facilities? Or are we concerned about individuals that may be terrorists and/or items that may be smuggled into the U.S. for use by terrorists. Certainly, the latter is the government's position in New York harbor, but not everywhere in the U.S. This is going to be a long conflict. Maritime operators and others must be prepared to weather it.

The Coast Guard's Response It is expected that the USCG Port Security measures for U.S. ports and waterways will remain the major concern of the USCG, eclipsing all other issues for the coming months, if not the foreseeable future. Port security will continue to be the dominant issue for the U.S. Coast Guard, as long as terrorism remains a major concern to the U.S. general public and the military. Clearly, immediate emergency increased funding and increased budget funding will probably be forthcoming from the Congress. There is no question that USCG current annual funding is inadequate to the task. The USCG is attempting to increase security across the board and protect all re than normal. Vessel owners and operators in concert with various overseas security agencies are probably in the best position to limit possible terrorist use of their vessels. Watching the airline industry, we see delay of passenger access to aircraft being a major tool used to gain compliance with security requirements. This includes the clearing of concourses and even whole terminals if something suspicious is detected. Similar action can be expected in the maritime. We fully expect that vessels' clearances and movements in port areas will have the potential for at least similar delays for security considerations. A vessel that follows all government security procedures can expect delays but will be allowed to ply its trade. Non-conformance with government dictates will no doubt lead to much more extensive delays. If real problems are detected, delays will probably be monumental.

Charley Havnen is a Commander USCG Ret. His organization can help you with your vessel construction project, regulatory problems, vessel manning issues, procedure manuals, accident analysis or expert witness. His organization can do what you can't or don't want to do. He can be reached by contacting the Havnen Group: (800) 493-3883 or (504) 394-8933, fax: (504) 394-8869.

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