Ashdod attack a wake-up call for U.S. ports, says ILWU official

Ashdod attack a wake-up call for U.S. ports, says ILWU official

The suicide bombing attacks on Israel's port of Ashdod that killed 10 port employees on March 14 confirmed the fears of American dockworkers.

"We're looking at that and saying this is a reality," said Lindsay McLaughlin, legislative director for the International Longshore and Warehouse Union. "All the people that were killed were dock workers."

More chilling are the results of an Israeli police investigation released Tuesday that determined the Palestinian bombers were smuggled into the closely guarded port in a shipping container. An inspection of the container by security guards at the Gaza border failed to detect the false panel concealing the bombers.

"The threat of a terrorist attack against the marine transportation system is a new reality," said Mike Mitre, director of coast port security for the longshore division of the ILWU, during a Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee hearing earlier this month.

Some U.S. ports are not doing enough to protect their workers, despite year-old rules by the Coast Guard and the potential for Ashdod-like attacks, Mitre told the panel, convened March 23 to take testimony on port security and the Bush administration's proposed budget.

"Marine terminals along the West coast continue to refuse, despite repeated encouragement and demands from the ILWU, to implement adequate port security measures to protect our port workers, communities and the nation as a whole from possible terrorist attack," Mitre said.

Mitre offered a list of security failings on behalf of the facilities represented by the Pacific Maritime Association, including failure to check container seals to detect tampering.

"I cannot emphasize enough the importance of checking the outside seal of containers upon entry into the facility by rail or truck and especially upon entry by sea," Mitre said. "A broken seal would immediately alert the port facility that the container may have been tampered with and needs to be carefully inspected."

Several ports are also waiting for a statutory July 1 deadline before implementing the security plans required by the Coast Guard's enforcement of the Maritime Transportation Security Act, Mitre said.

"Common sense would indicate that waiting until July 1, 2004, in which to institute necessary port security measures actually could heighten the risk of potential terrorism during this waiting period," he said. "I understand that our employers are concerned about the cost of port security measures. The ILWU is mindful of their concerns."

Mitre also noted that the MTSA does not include any provisions for the treatment of cargo containers that are marked "empty." Their exclusion from mandated security plans "presents a clear and present danger," he said.

"If there was ever to be an attack from anyone using an 'empty' container to transport and stage explosives or chemicals or biological agents, this would be the ideal manner in which to accomplish it," Mitre said.