Under intense pressure from shipping companies concerned about costly delays, the Coast Guard is tipping off some large commercial ships about security searches that had been a surprise, according to high-ranking Coast Guard officials.
The searches began after the Sept. 11 attacks as part of a major revamping of the Coast Guard and its new antiterrorism mission. But shipping companies say the surprise boardings at sea cause unnecessary delays, costing up to $40,000 an hour.
"We're trying to facilitate commerce and keep the port secure — and sometimes the two conflict," said Capt. Paul E. Wiedenhoeft, who is in charge of the port complex here at Los Angeles and Long Beach. "When possible, we're trying to give shippers as much notice as we can."
The practice has caused considerable confusion and debate within the Coast Guard. Commanders in some ports acknowledged in interviews that they provided up to 24-hour notice. Others said the practice undermined the inspections.
Even within the command at some ports, there was disagreement about the best approach. The port captain in San Francisco, Capt. William J. Uberti, said shippers and carriers were "not supposed to have a clue" about possible random boardings. Yet his security chief said the command gave companies notice.
A typical search involves checking the crew and cargo manifests against those filed with the ports. Sea marshals check identification cards against the faces of crew members. They sometimes arrive with bomb-sniffing dogs and inspect with hand-held radiation detectors. Depending on the circumstances, a review can last a half-hour or a half day, officials said.Fiscal conservatism. National security. Moral values. Free markets. Can the GOP turn any other planks in their platform into a punchline?