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Tighter Security Rules Announced for U.S. Ports

Secretary Tom Ridge says new measures mirror those being adopted worldwide.

June 22, 2004|Jean-Paul Renaud | Times Staff Writer

Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge announced Monday the implementation of tougher security measures for ports in California and across the nation, including new technology to detect radiation in cargo containers.

The new restrictions, ahead of a Congress-imposed July 1 deadline, add higher levels of security for nearly 360 ports in the country and for all U.S.-bound ships, Ridge said after a helicopter tour of the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles.

"Ports like this are the gateway to the vastly interconnected international economy," said Ridge, standing near Long Beach's Terminal T.

Ridge said the new measures -- required by the Maritime Transportation Security Act -- were in line with security measures being adopted by countries across the globe.

"There will be one world standard for ship and port security," Ridge said as the Coast Guard Cutter Narwhal floated behind him. With more than 80% of world trade traveling by sea, "shipping is a global industry. Terrorism is a global problem. Our collective security requires a collective solution."

A ship bound for the U.S. now faces a complex list of new security measures to ensure safety, and the process begins long before it leaves a foreign port.

Among several requirements, a ship will now have to report its manifest to U.S. authorities 24 hours before it sets sail. If it departs from any of the 19 major ports in the world, it may also undergo inspection from U.S. Customs and Border Patrol officials working in the foreign port.

Once in transit, that ship will be required to give a 96-hour advance notice of arrival.

Although many new security measures are already in place, some will vary from port to port and some may take longer to implement.

For example, eventually all shipping containers will be scanned by either a mobile radiation scanner mounted on a vehicle or a fixed device that cargo trucks must drive through. Currently, only mobile scanners are being used in the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, but authorities plan to install fixed scanners by December.

Most U.S. ports have yet to install radiation scanners. Also planned for the future is equipping cargo containers with "smart box" technology to alert officials if the containers have been tampered with while at sea.

Officials point to the new measures as proof that Homeland Security is acting swiftly to ensure safe travel. For example, after the Sept. 11 attacks, most of the federal government's focus was on airports, Coast Guard officials at Long Beach and Los Angeles said.

"Now we're really comfortable turning to our ports in a big way," said Capt. Peter Neffenger, who is in charge of Coast Guard operations in L.A. County.

The ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles, one of the busiest shipping complexes in the world, are the testing grounds for much of the technology that will soon be dispersed to other ports, such as the mobile radiation detector.

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