Coast Guard, Customs, Insist U.S. Ports Are Well-Protected

As a chorus of U.S. politicians loudly complains about an Arab state-owned firm taking over operations at several U.S. ports, citing security concerns, U.S. Coast Guard and Customs officials insisted here that the ports are well protected.

Former FBI director William Webster, speaking March 1 at an event hosted by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington-based think tank, stressed that DP World would "not touch the cargo. The cargo comes in sealed containers under the control of our security," he said.

"The Coast Guard has the authority to stop, board, turn away any vessel that represents a threat," said another participant, Rear Admiral Craig Bone, the U.S. Coast Guard director of inspection and compliance. "We have the same authority with regard to the facilities. We can shut down all operations at any facility at any time we found it to be providing some risk to the security of the United States," he said.

U.S. security officials are informed when a container ship is heading to a U.S. port 96 hours ahead of the planned arrival. Information includes a description of its cargo and a list of its passengers and crew. That gives plenty of time "so we can intercept that ship offshore if we think there is a need to do so," said Bone, noting that U.S. officials have boarded 16,000 ships since July 2004.

Since the September 11 terror attacks, the US government has increased control of the container traffic by working in collaboration with officials at 42 foreign ports, including Dubai.

Opponents to the deal believe that DP World, despite the safeguards, will have access to crucial safety information. "Any company that runs the ports has all kinds of information about arrival of cargo," said Representative Sherrod Brown, a Democrat from Ohio.

Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2006

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