Breakthrough on maritime security legislation
"Two years ago, Sen. Graham and I began this effort to improve the security at the nation's ports, and our Senate-House agreement in principle will allow this essential legislation to go to the President's desk and become law this year," said Senator Hollings. "Completion of this legislation represents a significant step forward for the nation's security."
As agreed to by conferees, the bill establishes local port security committees to integrate the myriad federal, state, local and private law enforcement agencies overseeing the security of the international borders at America's seaports. Federal agencies include intelligence, FBI, Customs, Immigration, and the Coast Guard. The legislation also mandates a regional Area Maritime Transportation Security Plan and directs all ports, facilities and vessels to draw up comprehensive security and incident response plans.
To enhance safety within U.S. ports, the Port and Maritime Security Act directs the U.S. Department of Transportation to develop specific regulations to secure ports and limit access to security-sensitive areas through background checks and the issuance of a transportation security identification card. The bill also restricts firearms and other weapons at U.S. ports and dictates that ports conduct background checks of employees working in security-sensitive areas. Under the bill, seafarers also will be required to carry acceptable identification.
"The threats facing our ports are dramatic and disturbing, and last week's terrorist attack on the French oil tanker off the coast of Yemen serves as a distinct reminder that these threats persist," said Sen. Hollings. "Similarly, the dire consequences of a terrorist event at our ports--in human lives and economic disruption--would be devastating. I'm confident that improving port security will be one of the most important achievements of this Congressional session."
The bill also improves the reporting of crew members, passengers, and imported cargo to better track suspicious activity. To that end, the measure requires ships to electronically send their cargo manifests to a port before gaining clearance to enter, and prohibits the unloading of improperly documented cargo. To address potential security threats traveling through international ports, the legislation directs the Secretary of Transportation to assess the antiterrorism measures maintained by foreign ports and permits U.S. ports to deny entry to vessels that call on ports without effective antiterrorism measures. The bill also authorizes the Coast Guard to board ships entering U.S. ports in order to deter highjackings or other terrorist threats.
"While I preferred to include a guaranteed funding source for port security enhancements, I believe it is critical that we approve the essential elements of the legislation before this session ends," said Sen. Hollings. "Funding issues remain, and I will continue to work with the Administration and my counterparts in the House to meet those needs as soon as possible."