Cruise Port Security Still Lacks Federal Funding

Federal authorities are planning to allocate $125 million for security improvements at U.S. ports, but officials say new funding falls woefully short

By: Laura L. Myers

PALM BEACH, Fla. While uniform federal standards and funding for security improvements at the nation’s seaports remain under development, cruise lines are working to secure their own vessels. The need for federal funding to upgrade seaport security, however, still remains a key theme repeated during the recent American Association of Port Authorities convention, which drew more than 700 port representatives from the Americas. “We’re concerned about ports in virtually every region of the U.S. They’re critical to the nation’s economy,” said John Flaherty, the U.S. Department of Transportation’s chief of staff. A breach of maritime security, similar to the disruption of air service after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks last year, would severely affect the nation, Flaherty told convention participants. “You, as part of the maritime community, must address the security threat,” Flaherty added, urging port officials to demand increased funding from federal officials. Conference attendees ranged from those representing Florida’s largest cruise ports in Miami and Fort Lauderdale among the world’s busiest to the St. Vincent & The Grenadines Port Authority, whose leaders expressed concern that cruise lines may bypass small, picturesque Caribbean ports for better-funded U.S. facilities. Federal authorities are planning to allocate an additional $125 million for security improvements at U.S. ports, but officials say new funding falls woefully short. Opposition to new taxes and user fees remains strong throughout the industry, which maintains its core business in the United States, the Caribbean, Canada and South America. More than 72% of cruising takes place in the Americas, pointed out Richard Gehring, principal of Prime Interests Inc., which develops management roles for port authorities in Dunedin, Fla. Cruise ports have the potential to earn $85 billion from the cruise lines between now and 2007, with 71,376 berths on 35 new ships under contract through 2004, Gehring added. In June, the federal government handed out $92.3 million for 51 port security grants in the United States. The Coast Guard also has formed four Marine Safety and Security Teams to combat terrorism at ports, with three of the four teams at West Coast ports: Seattle, Los Angeles-Long Beach and Houston. Meanwhile, new international security measures are being settled, including strengthening the current Safety of Life at Sea regulations, for implementation by July 2004. Currently, the industry requires that only ticketed passengers be allowed to board cruise ships and that all luggage and carry-on bags be screened. Electronic photos also are taken of passengers prior to boarding.