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US to Improve Port Security - 2002-06-18

The U.S. Department of Transportation is distributing nearly $93 million in grants to increase security at dozens of U.S. maritime ports. Officials say protecting the ports from terrorism requires international cooperation.

U.S. Secretary of Transportation Norman Mineta announced that 51 ports throughout the nation will receive grants to enhance security.

Mr. Mineta was speaking at a news conference near a major New York port overlooking the Statue of Liberty.

He says the awards are a first step to improve surveillance of cargo and protect passengers arriving by sea from the threat of terrorism. 'It is impossible to overstate the importance of our national maritime security," he said. "Maritime transportation is by its very nature inter-modal. A cargo container arriving at a U.S. seaport today can be virtually anywhere in [the United States] tomorrow."

Mr. Mineta says that the funding, provided by Congress, has been allocated based on need. New York, which has been at the center of a massive security effort since the September 11 terrorist attacks, will receive $9 million.

In addition to providing grants to help protect waterways, Transportation Department officials detailed security efforts, including the requirement that information about shipments arriving to the United States be provided 96 hours rather than 24 hours in advance.

And experts are developing new technology to help inspect and later track shipments of containers.

U.S. Coast Guard Commandant Admiral Thomas Collins says the effort to protect the ports is international in scope and involves numerous organizations. "To a great extent, the solution to many of these problems are global partnerships among all the shipping companies in the world on how to address this," he said. "That is one of the agenda items that we are addressing in the international maritime organization in London, and there's a working group working as we speak."

In addition to working closely with the International Maritime Organization, and counterparts across the border in Canada, Admiral Collins said the U.S. Customs Service is extending its reach overseas. He says creating partnerships abroad at so-called "mega-ports" in countries such as Singapore, can help in the surveillance of shipments headed for the United States.

The grants to increase security around the ports were announced just days after the Bush administration revealed it plans to create a Department of Homeland Security, combining multiple U.S. federal agencies.