By John Henry Byk,
The U.S. Coast Guard and the Transportation Security Administration recently announced that the Transportation Worker Identification Credential (TWIC) program compliance date for Puerto Rico and the U.S Virgin Islands will be sometime between March 1 and April 15, 2009.
The exact date will be announced in the Federal Register at least 90 days in advance. All U.S. Coast Guard credentialed mariners and individuals needing unescorted access to secure areas of ports or vessels regulated by the Maritime Transportation Security Act (MTSA) will need to obtain a TWIC prior to the compliance date.
“This is an important initiative which will enhance the security in the ports of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Those in need of a TWIC should start the process as soon as possible so it can be implemented with minimal disruptions to maritime operations,” said Capt. Eduardo Pino, The U.S. Coast Guard Federal Maritime Security Coordinator for Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Some may consider it astounding that a much delayed and much needed identification security protocol for a major import tonnage port for the United States has taken so long to implement. After all, Latin American cargo in Puerto Rico is approximately 78% of world cargo according to the Latin American Trade and Transportation Study and is projected to grow steadily in the years to come, outpacing current infrastructure and security systems already in place on the island. Why is it taking so long to close the deal on TWIC in Puerto Rico and the rest of the United States for that matter? Why can a person go into any sporting goods store in America, attempt to purchase a rifle, and have a criminal background check done in a matter of minutes but have to wait months before obtaining a security clearance via the TWIC program?
Criticism of the beleaguered program reached the bipartisan Congressional level last October when hearings were held on the hill by the House Homeland Security Committee’s subcommittee on border, maritime and global counterterrorism chaired by Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) “ The Department began rolling out the TWIC program, which was mandated five years ago, just two weeks ago,” Thompson said in a statement. “Already there are glaring problems.” At the port of Houston, the department estimated 30,000 workers would need the cards, while actually it is close to 350,000, he said. “TWIC readers are years away from installation,” Thompson added. “Without the readers, a TWIC is merely a flash pass that can be fraudulently duplicated and misused.”
A skeptic may perceive this apparently bureaucratic malaise as related to the developing Port of Americas at Ponce, Puerto Rico. The island is poised to become the key player of imported cargo, funneled into the U.S., mostly tax free thanks to the Tax Technical Corrections Act of 2007 which exempts Puerto Rico and, in essence, formally labels it a “foreign port” thereby preventing the collection of tax revenues normally applied to U.S. shipping lines. To further aggravate the loss of revenue into governmental tax coffers, Puerto Rico is establishing a “Free Trade Zone” on the island. This means that foreign manufactures can ship their product parts there to be assembled and re-packaged and re-shipped to the United States, successfully avoiding all import duties on tariffs.
Such incompetency is completely unacceptable and suspect to say the least. Anyone who has had first hand experience with marine terminals and merchant cargo vessels will testify that it is virtually impossible to guarantee that inbound cargo and their means of transportation can be deemed 100% free of smuggled contraband, including stowaways hidden in containers. Since only 5-6% of the 7 million containers which enter the United States are searched using imperfect container scanning technology, the sensible and dangerously long overdue first step solution towards improved port security should be screening the human element involved. You can hide a package on a ship but the gait of a sailor, or any person for that matter, is a uniquely individual characteristic which can be successfully used to identify potential criminal elements. Watching a person walk is a lot cheaper and more efficient than expensive and questionable biometric technology, such as L1 face recognition software. But maybe the TSA has bedroom eyes for the sellers of this security system and they are waiting patiently for their lover to come.
John Henry Byk is a former Quartermaster, U.S. Coast Guard. If you would like to publish your work on maritime security, maritime terrorism or maritime homeland security on MaritimeTerrorism.com , you can find more information here.