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Heightened US State of Security Prompts Closings, Cancellations - 2004-01-02

The U.S. Coast Guard, citing security reasons, has temporarily shut down a major oil terminal in the northwestern state of Alaska. Meanwhile, on Thursday, British Airways canceled one of its flights to the United States on instructions from the British government. Both measures are the latest in a series of alerts and flight cancellations prompted by heightened concern over possible terrorist attacks in the United States.

The latest measures were announced 11 days after the U.S. Department of Homeland Security raised the nation's threat level from "elevated" to "high" risk of terrorist attacks, or from code yellow to code orange, the second-highest security alert level.

The U.S. Coast Guard says it ordered the port of Valdez, Alaska, one of the nation's leading oil terminals, temporarily shut down on Tuesday, because of security concerns. Petty Officer Russ Tippets is a Coast Guard spokesman.

"I know the whole nation right now is just increasing security everywhere and they have just asked us, because Valdez is one of the biggest ports for Alaska, they've asked us to increase the security there," he said. "We have increased our number of Coast Guard cutters patrolling the area there, as well as Coast Guard helicopters and Coast Guard port security teams."

The Port of Valdez is located at the southern end of the Alaska pipeline, which carries oil from the Prudhoe Bay oil fields, on the state's North coast. The 1,280-kilometer pipeline carries 17 percent of the nation's domestic oil supply.

Also, Thursday, British Airways canceled one of its three daily flights from London to the Washington area. Company spokesman John Lamphill.

"The British government directed British Airways to cancel flight 223," said John Lamphill. "We can only assume that this is due to security reasons. We have no other explanation."

On Wednesday, U.S. authorities detained another British Airways flight for several hours at Washington's Dulles Airport and questioned a number of passengers.

Security concerns have now prompted British Airways, Air France and AeroMexico to cancel a total of eight U.S.-bound flights in the past nine days.

Earlier this week, Britain announced it will comply with a U.S. request to put armed marshals on board designated flights to or from the United States. Other governments and airlines have said they already have marshals onboard their flights.

The U.S. government is reserving the right to deny landing or take off rights to any foreign airline if it refuses a U.S. request to place armed law enforcement officers on board designated flights.

But some foreign airline pilots have criticized the policy, saying authorities should concentrate on improving security checks on the ground instead.