Senate OKs new inspectors, technology for seaport security

Wrapping up a session with an unexpected amount of focus on transportation legislation, the Senate passed by unanimous consent a seaport security bill Thursday.

The seaport bill, which Senate Commerce Chairman Ernest Hollings, D-S.C., and the administration had worked out over the past several weeks, would authorize $1.2 billion for ports to upgrade security and for the U.S. Customs Service to add new inspectors, agents and technology to screen and detect potential threats.

The bill "creates mechanisms to integrate all these different security agencies and their efforts to improve the security of our seaports, and the railways and highways that converge at our seaports," Hollings said.

It also would guarantee up to $3.3 billion in loans to help seaports upgrade their security infrastructure. The House has not acted on the measure.

The bill would create a sea marshal program, require all ports to have a comprehensive security plan, require ports to limit access to sensitive areas, require ships to send their cargo manifests electronically before gaining clearance, and improve the reporting of ship personnel, cargo and passengers.

In order to reach agreement, Hollings agreed to many of the administration's suggestions on port security administration and agreed not to include additional funds to beef up rail security, which could have drawn numerous amendments or objections.

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