Coast Guard Says It Plans to Inspect More Ships

WASHINGTON -- Ships that have called at specified ports in Africa and the former Soviet Union are more likely than other vessels to be boarded and inspected when they enter U.S. ports, the Coast Guard said Friday.

The increased attention to those ships results from the failure of 17 countries to confirm that they meet new international port security standards that took effect July 1.

The Coast Guard also will board more vessels that sail under the flags of 13 countries _ including Panama, the Netherlands and Thailand _ because their compliance with the new security standards has been below average.

The standards require every ship to have a security officer, an alarm system, access restrictions to the engine room and bridge and a method of checking IDs of people who come aboard.

Such standards are fairly minimal given the vulnerability of ports to attack and their importance to global trade, counterterror experts say.

The independent commission that investigated the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks said current efforts to protect the nation's 361 ports from terrorists are inadequate.

In a recently released addendum to its original report, the Sept. 11 commission said the Homeland Security Department, which oversees the Coast Guard, should "bolster efforts to identify, track and screen suspicious cargo entering the country from foreign ports."

The commission also said the department should make sure that enough shipping containers are chosen at random for screening "to deter the gaming of targeted screening systems."

Currently only a very small percentage of shipping containers is opened and inspected.

Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., said the problem is lack of money. She said spending on port security last year was about $1 billion short of what the Coast Guard said was needed.

"We must provide the funding necessary to harden and protect our port facilities and the people who live and work near them," Murray said Thursday in the Senate.

Murray unsuccessfully proposed tripling the amount of federal money to tighten security at ports to $450 million. The vote was largely along party lines.

On Wednesday, the Republican-controlled Senate turned aside a Democratic effort to double port security spending in deliberations on legislation to allot money for Homeland Security operations.

An amendment by Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., to double the bill's $150 million for developing equipment to detect nuclear weapons hidden in containers entering U.S. ports also died.

The 17 countries that haven't reported that their ports comply with international standards are Albania, Benin, Democratic Republic of Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Kiribati, Lebanon, Liberia, Madagascar, Mozambique, Nauru, Nigeria, Serbia and Montenegro, Sierra Leone, Solomon Islands and Suriname.

The flag states whose vessels will be targeted for increased boardings are Antigua and Barbuda, Bolivia, Cayman Islands, Cook Islands, Cyprus, Honduras, Hong Kong, Malta, Netherlands, Panama, Russia, Singapore and Thailand.