Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

January 29, 2006

Ferry security in the Pacific Northwest

Filed under: Port and Maritime Security — by Christian Beckner on January 29, 2006

The publication Canadian Sailings has an interesting story that compares security in the British Columbia and Washington state ferry systems, the two largest ferry services in North America:

North America’s largest ferry operator does something a near neighbour forbids. It allows baggage to be put aboard vessels that may carry up to 2,100 people without checking to see that someone is travelling with it.

Baggage can be left at terminal drop-offs and British Columbia Ferry Services loads it onto carts that ride on the main vehicle decks of major ferries, just above the engines, to be picked up at the vessel’s destination. It is all done on trust and BC Ferries won’t talk about the security risks.

Washington State Ferries, which has the second largest ferry fleet on the continent, does not accept unaccompanied baggage, as part of a post-9/11 tightening of security.

A potentially greater risk both ferry operators face is that someone of suicidal bent, perhaps eager for the 74 virgins promised Islamic fanatics who kill infidels, can drive aboard with a van packed with an explosive mix of nitrogen fertilizer and diesel oil (bulky, but easy to acquire). And then, Boom!

And here again, Washington State Ferries is more vigilant than its B.C. counterpart, routinely deploying bomb-sniffing dogs to inspect vehicles….

The article goes on to compare other security measures undertaken by the two ferry services, such as:

  • Training exercises to enhance preparedness.
  • Vehicle screening.
  • Improved surveillance, lighting, and fencing.

The story also raises the issue of whether Washington State Ferries is using TSA VIPER teams, a fact denied by a ferry service spokeswoman.

There have been solid gains in the security of the nation’s key ferry systems in the last few years, although there is room for improvement. Additional resources could help, and DHS should consider funding research to develop new technologies that could quickly screen vehicles for explosives. An attack on a ferry could have serious consequences; it’s worth remembering that the explosives in the trunk of Ahmed Ressam might have sunk the BC ferry on which he traveled before he was caught in Port Angeles, WA on his way to try to attack LAX as part of the Millennium Plot.

For more on this issue, see the Washington State Ferries’ webpage on their security measures.

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