Security ratchets up at ports
The possibility of terrorism has a big impact on marine traffic in region
Photographs tacked to a bulletin board outside Lt. Tanya Giles' office show a few of the safety violations that U.S. Coast Guard ship inspections teams sometimes encounter: lifeboat hulls and hatch covers pocked by rust holes, a collapsed cargo crane.
Giles, chief of Port State Control for the Coast Guard's Marine Safety Office Group on Swan Island, says they are extreme examples of violations found during the ship inspections she's done in the four years she's been stationed in Portland.
In the wake of Sept. 11, 2001, however, the importance of ship inspections has ratcheted up enormously. Ships sailing into Portland harbor still are subject to comprehensive annual inspections that focus on the safety of the ship, its crew and the environment.
Now, sharpened by the possibility of terrorism, port security is a priority.
'We're doing everything from boarding (a ship) here in Portland to putting an armed team aboard in Astoria and riding them all the way up into the dock' in Portland, said Capt. Paul Jewell, commander of the Coast Guard base. 'It's a 12-hour trip to make sure it's secure.'
And security, after 9-11, is what matters most. Port of Portland spokeswoman Elisa Dozono said the port already has spent $250,000 to $275,000 to improve security fencing at the port's maritime terminals.
Also stepped up: efforts to find funding to make ports more secure. The Regional Maritime Security Coalition last year got a $623,000 federal grant to assess what can be done to beef up security at seven ports: Portland; Coos Bay; Astoria; St. Helens; Kalama, Wash.; Longview, Wash.; and Vancouver, Wash.
Besides the ports, a wide range of maritime businesses and government agencies are involved in the coalition, which has applied for an $8 million federal grant to carry out the needed security improvements.
Jim Townley, coalition project manager, said he hopes that at least half of the grant will be awarded. Townley is executive director of Columbia River Steamship Operators, which put an additional $200,000 toward the initial grant.
About 2,000 ships visit Portland each year, carrying everything from grain for export to car carriers. A post-Sept. 11 law requires ships headed to Portland to provide documentation on the vessel 96 hours in advance of arrival.
An examination of 'certain aspects' of the records by U.S. intelligence, Jewell said, predicates the extent to which the Coast Guard will scrutinize a vessel. He declined, however, to elaborate what triggers that special attention or to say how many ships warrant an armed boarding party.
'We're fighting the battle to do everything we did before 9-11, as far as the other missions, but I think we're succeeding in that,' Jewell said. 'We're doing the best with what we have. That's the official line ÑÊand that's the truth.'
The number of people at the Coast Guard's Swan Island station has swelled since 9-11 to include 150 active duty personnel and 125 reserves. Now, he said, 'we're doing more of everything.'
Other agencies also have stepped forward to help as the Coast Guard's duties have expanded, Jewell said. Fire departments, for instance, are assisting with oil pollution response. 'We're also leaning heavily on the Coast Guard Auxiliary for search and rescue patrols,' he said.