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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, December 7, 2003

Deadline near for harbor security plans

By Mike Leidemann
Advertiser Transportation Writer

Maritime agencies and businesses statewide are scrambling to meet new federal port security requirements that go into effect at the end of the month.

Financial aid

Five Hawai'i companies and the state will receive $4.1 million in federal money to help offset the cost of new security programs, U.S. Sen. Dan Inouye announced Friday.

The money is the third in a series of grants the federal government has provided to help maritime transportation.

The latest grant recipients include:

• Chevron Products Co., $2.4 million.

• State Transportation Department, $984,000.

• Horizon Lines, $525,000.

• ConocoPhillips, $230,896.

• Matson Navigation Co., $35,000.

• The Gas Company, $45,070.

The companies, ranging from the state Transportation Department down to small sunset-cruise operators, have to submit detailed security plans that could end up costing hundreds of thousands of dollars.

The Department of Homeland Security's emphasis on ports nationwide is especially important to Hawai'i, where almost every aspect of the economy, from cargo goods to the rapidly expanding cruise ship industry, is tied one way or another to the harbors, said Robert Housman, a former White House aide and now a private adviser in Washington for maritime security.

"Terrorists are big on symbolism and let's not forget that the last great attack on American territory before Sept. 11 was Pearl Harbor. That's not lost on these people," Housman said.

Although the new requirements were announced early this year, "the plans are just now starting to trickle in," said Coast Guard Lt. Chris Lee, assistant chief of readiness for the port command in Honolulu, the office charged with reviewing and approving the security efforts.

"We're expecting a big rush shortly before Dec. 31," he said.

The plans, which have to be implemented by July, can include everything from extra perimeter fencing and security cameras to new inspection procedures for employees, passengers and cargo.

While many of the biggest port users, such as Matson Navigation and Horizon Lines, started beefing up security right after Sept. 11, many smaller operators didn't even learn of the new requirements until a few months ago. It's those companies that are facing the biggest problems in the next few weeks, officials said.

"Right now I'm working on the security plan for each of our ships. Then I'm going to start work on the plan for the whole facility," said Capt. Bob Hayes, port operations manager for the University of Hawai'i Marine Center, a 16-acre research area on Sand Island.

Until a few months ago, the UH facility, which provides an operating base for local and visiting international research vessels, didn't consider the need for hardened security.

"We don't carry a lot of cargo and don't have a lot of people on board. We're what you might call a very soft target, but because of where we are and because we fly the American flag, that puts us in a new category," Hayes said.

Hayes is working on proposals that could call for upgraded fencing, better lighting, 24-hour guard service, improved video surveillance and other measures that could end up costing tens of thousands of dollars.

"We're not alone, either. There are dozens of research ships operating around the world that will have to have security plans now when they enter U.S. harbors," he said.

Many smaller port users are turning to private security companies to develop the plans for them, said Kraig Kennedy, head of the Honolulu Chamber of Commerce's Maritime Committee.

"A lot of them don't even know what the regulations are yet," he said. "In some cases, the state is producing a plan for the whole port area, but we don't know yet what we'll have to do to comply with it."

The new rules apply to any port facility or ship that can carry at least 15 passengers, said Chuck Smith, vice president and general manager for Spectrum Security, one of the local companies that has been helping users develop their security plans.

Those who fail to plan and implement the security changes risk heavy fines or losing the ability to operate around the port areas, Smith said.

"Right now, the Coast Guard wants to see that you are showing some progress and taking some action. There will be time to make more adjustments later," he said.

Lee said that nearly 100 businesses and facilities operating around ports statewide have been notified about the requirements. They include cruise ship operators, shipyards, cargo facilities, oil refineries and even those who provide fuel around the dock areas.

"We've touched base with about 90 percent of the security managers. By this point there shouldn't be any surprise that the deadline is approaching," he said.

The state, which controls most of the land around Hawai'i ports, has spent more than $1.5 million to improve security, and is developing a new plan to comply with Coast Guard regulations, said Scott Ishikawa, Transportation Department spokesman.

Among the improvements made are new barriers, blastproofing, explosive-sniffing dogs, video cameras, and electromagnetic locks around Honolulu Harbor and new perimeter fencing at Kahului, Nawiliwili and Hilo harbors.

Housman said the last-minute rush occurring across Hawai'i is typical of what's happening on the Mainland.

"Basically, the federal government took what is normally a several-year process to put in new regulations and boiled it down to a few months. The big, established companies have been working diligently on these plans, but there are a lot of others who are just waking up to the realization of what's happening. It's those folks who are in the scramble mode now," he said.

Those with little experience may end up oversecuring themselves, he said.

"You can do things fairly simple or very complex," he said. "Overdoing it may put more of a crimp on their budget than necessary. The trick is to figure out what's right for your facility and the level of threat you're facing."

The federal government is making millions of dollars in grant money available to help offset the cost of the new requirements, he said. The state and Matson are among the groups who have received such money from the government, but increasingly smaller operations are learning how to apply for the money, he said.

Ultimately, the new security procedures will mean more costs and delays for those who use the port, including workers and passengers, but won't entirely keep the facilities sealed and safe.

"This provides about 60 or 70 percent of the solution," Housman said. "We're never going to eliminate every vulnerability, and we wouldn't want to do it because of the civil liberty issues involved."

Other rules going into effect next month will require importers who want to bring goods to the United States by sea to send, 24 hours before loading in a foreign port, lists that identify the freight to federal homeland security agents for review.

The rules are intended to help Customs and border protection agents identify high-risk cargo that should be X-rayed or inspected at the border.

The manifests must be sent electronically so agents can compare them with law enforcement and commercial databases. If a firm has been in legal trouble, for example, that might prompt port agents to inspect the cargo.

Reach Mike Leidemann at 525-5460 or mleidemann@honoluluadvertiser.com.