07 November 2003
House Bill Would Require Coast Guard to Inspect Foreign Ships
Measure would reauthorize agency through 2005
By Andrzej Zwaniecki
Washington File Staff Writer
Washington -- The U.S. House of Representatives approved a $7.1
billion bill that would require the Coast Guard to review the security
plans of foreign ships entering U.S. territorial waters.
The Coast Guard bill, which reauthorizes funding for the agency
through 2005, passed November 5 by voice vote.
The Senate has yet to vote on its own version of the Coast Guard
The House measure would oblige the Coast Guard -- since March
2003 an agency in the Department of Homeland Security -- to assess
the security plans of foreign ships to make sure that they comply
with security and safety standards established by the International
Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS), according to
The bill also contains provisions that would help the agency hire
more personnel, authorize it to suspend or revoke a merchant seaman's
credentials if the individual poses a safety or security threat,
and allow the Transportation Department to require non-tank vessels
to prepare oil spill response plans.
In addition, the legislation would require the Coast Guard to
report to Congress on the number and types of cargo containers
and ships that enter U.S. ports and develop a method to certify
so-called classification societies, private groups on which foreign
governments often rely for maritime security and safety inspections.
During a June House Transportation subcommittee hearing, Coast
Guard Commandant Thomas Collins said his agency had no choice but
to accept temporarily reviews done by classification societies
because the Coast Guard lacked money to evaluate on its own the
security plans of around 10,000 foreign ships.
However, several lawmakers criticized this approach, arguing that
it ignored a mandate in a 2002 law. The 2002 maritime security
measure, designed to counter terrorist threats against the United
States and its maritime industry, called on ship owners and operators
to develop security plans for approval by the Transportation Department
and required the department -- the home of the Coast Guard at the
time -- to assess security at high-risk foreign ports and those
from which high volumes of U.S.-destined cargo originate.
The authorization bill approved in July by the Senate Transportation
committee would provide $6.9 billion for the Coast Guard. If the
full Senate approves the measure the two versions must be reconciled
and the final bill has to be passed by both chambers before the
president can sign it into law.
(The Washington File is a product of the Bureau of International
Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)