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Mineta outlines tighter maritime security measures

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta outlined a series of long-term proposals for tightening security against terrorist attacks at the nation's ports on Thursday, including expanding the Coast Guard's authority to patrol the nation's coastline.

Mineta testified before a House transportation subcommittee.

Under the proposal, the Coast Guard would be able to patrol waters 12 miles from the U.S. shore, as compared to the current 3-mile limit. The secretary also said the department expects to make permanent a temporary regulation enacted after the September 11 terrorist attacks requiring all ships to provide 96-hour advance notice before docking in U.S. ports.

Mineta said these and other measures are needed to protect against the possibility of terrorist acts against the nation's seaports and coastline. He called for strengthening criminal penalties for maritime terrorism and for the use of weapons on passengers, and for evaluations of existing security capabilities at U.S. ports.

The transportation secretary noted the magnitude of the nation's maritime industry, with its 361 ports, in describing the need for added security.

"It has been estimated that more than 6 million containers enter the country via U.S. ports every day," he told the congressmen, "and a cargo container arriving at a U.S. seaport today can be virtually anywhere in the heartland of America via truck or rail tomorrow."

Mineta also proposed that the Department of Transportation be given expanded authority to conduct security assessments of foreign ports. He said the U.S. would work with international organizations toward the establishment of international standards for port security.

Ridge expects substantial aid to states

Meanwhile, Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge said Thursday he expects the federal government will make a substantial contribution toward long term security measures implemented by state and local governments responding to the threat of terrorism.

Speaking at a gathering of the National Conference of State Legislatures, Ridge said he envisions the creation of a long-term national homeland security strategy and mentioned increased resources for first responders -- local police, fire and emergency services personnel -- as well as strengthened national bio-defense strategy as two areas of priority.

"To strengthen your preparedness in these and other areas, I know -- we know -- you will need financial support from the federal government, and we plan to address that," Ridge told the assembled state legislators.

A day earlier, the National Governors Association issued a warning that states need more money to help defray the costs of homeland security. The governors estimated that the first year alone will cost the states $4 billion.

In a prior event on Thursday, Ridge -- who does not have budgetary authority -- said he expects a significant federal contribution.

"I think we both understand that to create a national homeland security network, the federal government is going to have to provide substantial resources," he said. "And I think you're going to see a very considerable down payment."


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