OLYMPIA – Gov. Chris Gregoire, Democratic governor of one of America’s leading port states, on Monday said she’s more concerned about overall port security than the furor over foreign operators.
Gregoire, in Washington, D.C., for a meeting of the nation’s governors, commented a day after the Bush administration accepted an offer by a Dubai company to submit to a new and broader review of potential security risks if it takes over some of the operations at six major U.S. ports.
The company, owned by the government of the United Arab Emirates, is in line to buy a London company that runs significant operations in New York, New Jersey, Baltimore, New Orleans, Miami and Philadelphia.
Gregoire, asked by home state reporters for her reaction to an arrangement that has infuriated lawmakers in both parties, didn’t criticize the administration or the deal itself. She said her concern is the broader issue of “port security everywhere. … There is a bigger issue here.”
The United States has the technology and know-how to operate secure ports, but the government hasn’t stepped up to the problem since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks left the country vulnerable, Gregoire said.
She reflected the comments of the state’s senior senator, Patty Murray, who has advocated a crash program for boosting cargo security.
In Washington state, two of the major marine container terminals at the Port of Seattle are operated by foreign companies; one by Hanjin, a Korean company, and the other by NOL of Singapore.
The port’s other two terminals are operated by U.S. firms, SSA Marine and by a joint operating company run by SSA and Matson Navigation.
The Port of Tacoma operates some of its own container operations and leases out others. The Danish company APM Terminals Pacific runs one. Washington United Terminals, which imports Hyundais, is a U.S. firm with significant Korean ownership.
Virtually all the other state port operations are run by local port districts, said Pat Jones, executive director of the Washington Public Ports Association.
“Ownership of terminal operating companies has been in foreign hands to a certain extent for a while,” Jones said in an interview. “We haven’t had security issues concerning foreign ownership.”
The association estimates that one in three Washington jobs is trade-related. Exports, including aircraft, reached $40 billion last year. Imports, including cars and electronic consumer products, topped $58 billion in 2001.
Murray’s spokeswoman, Alex Glass, said the senator has expressed concern about the Dubai development, but “she is more concerned about the overall lack of security standards at our ports.”
Murray and Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, Senate homeland security chairwoman, toured the Port of Seattle a week ago and are co-sponsoring the GreenLane Maritime Cargo Security Act, which would set minimum security standards for all cargo containers entering the U.S.
“Right now, there is a gaping hole in America’s security when it comes to the cargo entering our ports each day,” Murray said last week. “To protect our nation we have to develop a cargo security system that closes vulnerabilities, provides a way to resume trade after an incident, and maintains the efficient flow of commerce.”
The state’s other senator, Democrat Maria Cantwell, met Sunday with officials from the Seattle and Tacoma ports, the Coast Guard and SSA Marine. She was preparing for a Senate committee hearing Tuesday on port security.
“Millions of tons of cargo pass through our states ports each year,” said Cantwell, ranking Democrat on the committee that oversees the Coast Guard. “We have a responsibility to make sure these vital economic hubs stay safe and secure.
“I want to know what measures are being taken to make sure cargo coming to the United States is secure before it even enters U.S. waters. The U.S. has an obligation to make sure our international partners have strict security standards and a way to enforce them.”