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Lack of funding slows port security measures

WASHINGTON -- While the vast majority of US port facilities are set to meet a July 1 deadline for new security standards, experts said yesterday that inadequate government funding has slowed efforts to secure some of the nation's waterways.

The increased security measures -- which apply both to US ports and to US-bound vessels from overseas -- were approved following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Under the new standards, the nation's 361 ports must have a Coast Guard-approved security plan, including annual emergency drills and appointment of a designated security officer. All cargo eventually will have to go through radiation scanners.

Under a treaty signed in 2002 by 148 countries, foreign ships headed to the United States will be required to carry a security officer, display identification clearly, have updated alarm systems and alert authorities 96 hours before arrival.

The Coast Guard has brought on 500 new personnel to enforce the regulations. Ships that fail a Coast Guard inspection may be turned back.

Smaller ports and shipping companies from developing countries are more likely to be unable to afford the changes required by the new measures.

''The major shippers, the major ports -- they're going to be compliant," said James Carafano, a research fellow at the Heritage Foundation, a Washington public policy center. ''It's not the Wal-Marts or the Targets that will get caught on this."

But now that the plans are drawn up, even larger ports are struggling to put the measures in place, said Jim White, the executive director of the Maryland Port Administration. White said fierce competition in his region has kept the Port of Baltimore from investing in new technologies.

''There's no way ports on the East Coast can absorb these costs," he said.

White and other critics pointed to the $15 billion the airline industry received from Congress to improve security after Sept. 11. The administration has asked for $46 million for aid to the ports in the 2005 budget.

Legislators have proposed assessing fees on cargo moving through US ports to help pay for the costs.

But at a discussion on port security yesterday, Asa Hutchinson, the Department of Homeland Security's undersecretary for border and transportation security, said new fees are ''not on the table right now."

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