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 Harbour open to attack

Latest NewsHarbour open to attack
The Daily Telegraph

May 28, 2006

AUSTRALIA remains highly vulnerable to a terrorist attack because of "gaping holes" in maritime security, a counter-terrorism conference has been told.

Maritime Union of Australia spokesman Dean Summers said foreign ships carrying explosive cargoes – including ammonium nitrate – were freely plying Australian waters.

"When these ships are issued with a permit, there are no checks whatsoever of their bona fides," Mr Summers said.

He told the Port and Maritime Security and Counter-Terrorism Conference in Sydney that the country's ports and ferries – particularly those in Sydney – were an easy target for


"Foreign ships are carrying highly dangerous cargo into our shores, which means our coastal ports and cities are being laid open to potential terrorists," Mr Summers said.

International security experts have expressed fears that al-Qaeda may launch a maritime attack. There are fears terrorists may use ships as floating bombs, or hijack a ship and ram it into a port.

Labor said maritime security was a "gaping hole" in securing Australia against terrorism.

Labor Senator Glenn Sterle told a budget estimates hearing last week about 200,000 foreign seafarers visit Australian shores each year without stringent checks.

He said it was "a contradiction" that the Government was tightening security around Australian seafarers and port workers while allowing foreign-flagged ships to do whatever they liked.

"There remains a stark contrast in the security checks made on Australian seafarers operating on Australian-registered or licensed ships compared to foreign seafarers working in Australian coastal waters on foreign ships," Mr Summers said.

About 50 ships daily call at Australia's 60 ports.

Under the Government's tightened security measures for Australian port workers, Maritime Security Identification Cards will be issued to the country's 130,000 maritime workers, but delays in setting up the scheme have meant the cards won't be available until early next year.

After the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, the US tightened its port security and shipping movements, aware of the potential for a seaborne terrorist attack.

But Mr Summers said that Australia continued to lag well behind the US, which had adopted a strict policy, allowing only US-owned-and-operated ships to ply its waters.

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