Small boats seen as a terror threat
(USA Today) WASHINGTON — The nation’s 17 million small boats are facing increased scrutiny from the Homeland Security Department, which fears they could be used in a nuclear attack or a lethal explosion at a U.S. port.
Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said this month that he had ordered agency leaders to “raise the protection level with respect to small boats.” Attacks this decade by terrorists ramming bomb-filled speedboats into a U.S. battleship and a French tanker are worrisome, Chertoff said.
The Coast Guard is seeking a new federal requirement that all boat operators carry identification wherever they are on the water so it can build a database of boaters found in restricted areas. The agency also wants to require state boating courses to teach security protocols such as avoiding cruise-ship terminals and military facilities.
Although new mandates would apply to operators of state-registered boats — usually those with an engine — the Homeland Security Department is focused on protecting major ports near large cities.
Boat operators, represented by the Boat Owners Association, support the effort as long as they don’t have to get separate ID cards or install costly tracking devices, association lobbyist Margaret Podlich said.
The Domestic Nuclear Detection Office plans to test next year whether sensors on buoys and boats can detect radiation from a nuclear or radiological bomb on a small vessel. “This represents a serious vulnerability,” Director Vayl Oxford said. “The consequences would be so extreme.”
Next month, the Coast Guard will give Chertoff a plan to better oversee recreational boats and small ferries and fishing boats with “additional surveillance, monitoring and information systems,” said Dana Goward, director of the Coast Guard’s Maritime Domain Awareness program. “We need to know more about who’s out there.”
Only Alabama requires boat operators to carry identification, said Ron Sarver of the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators. All but three states require boater education, but the requirements often are limited to young people or personal-watercraft operators, Sarver said.
Large boats — generally those longer than 100 feet — must have security plans and transponders that relay their position to Coast Guard stations.
Council on Foreign Relations security expert Stephen Flynn said terrorists are more likely to detonate a bomb in one of the thousands of metal shipping containers unloaded at ports each day.
“The consequence is all boxes would be viewed as a threat and you’d stop the system,” Flynn said.
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