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Ridge Takes Steps to Enhance U.S. Waterway, Port Security

American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Oct. 23, 2003 -- New maritime security rules are approved and published, Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge announced today at a meeting of industry leaders in Wilmington, Del.

The Maritime Transportation Security Act, signed by President Bush in November 2002, seeks to strengthen security at the nation's seaports by requiring comprehensive security plans for U.S. ports and mandating improved identification and screening of seaport personnel. Homeland Security worked with the maritime industry to develop the "final" rules.

Ridge said that with 95 percent of the nation's overseas cargo carried by ship, maritime security is critical.

"These final rules, which were developed with the cooperation and input of the maritime industry, strengthen and bring consistency to both our nationwide maritime security program and our ability to deter homeland security threats," Ridge said.

Homeland Security officials highlighted some of the new rules' provisions:

-- Conducting security assessments and identifying potential vulnerabilities to help determine what security measures need to be implemented.

-- Developing security plans that will allow flexibility to deal with unique security aspects as identified in the assessment.

-- Creating a network of security personnel in the maritime industry that will focus on security issues and provide an additional set of informed "eyes and ears."

-- Allowing for more moderate measures under normal circumstances, while ensuring maritime industry is prepared to tighten security when necessary.

-- Installing Automatic Identification Systems aboard large ships to increase the ability to separate "law-abiding" from "suspect" vessels by allowing for comprehensive, virtually instantaneous vessel tracking and monitoring.

Ridge said the rules put "innovative protective measures" into practice nationwide.

"We are using technology such as the new Automatic Identification System, teamwork in designing and implementing security measures with the private sector, and a flexible response system that government, responders, and industry will all use to immediately increase security to meet emerging threats," the secretary said.

The Homeland Security Department developed the final rules with a team from the Coast Guard, the Transportation Security Administration, Customs and Border Protection and the Department of Transportation's Maritime Administration. The team held public meetings around the country over the past year to ensure broad input from the maritime industry, receiving and evaluating more than 2,000 comments and recommendations.

Homeland Security officials said the final rules will mean significant changes in security practices within all segments of the maritime industry, including cruise ships, container ships and offshore oil platforms.

The Coast Guard published the new security requirements Oct. 22, replacing temporary rules issued in July.

(Information for this article was obtained from a Department of Homeland Security news release.)