Sept. 10, 2002 – Although the Police Department put out a release on Tuesday stating that U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft had "issued new information of possible renewed terrorist attacks on the United States and its holdings," officials concerned with security in various sectors of the territory conveyed a calm sense of being as much in control as possible.
A "new normalcy" is how U.S. Coast Guard Lt. John Reinert put it when discussing changes to Coast Guard operations since last year's Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. His remarks reflect what other officials say, if they'll speak at all.
Like others, Reinert was cagey about the specifics of how the Coast Guard now protects the territory's harbors. "We're shifting assets to changing times," Reinert observed.
He would say that a San Juan-based Coast Guard cutter now periodically accompanies cruise ships in and out of the port of Charlotte Amalie, and that the Coast Guard tries to remain invisible on its other protection endeavors.
The "advisory alert" put out Tuesday by Police Commissioner Franz Christian said local police "are on a heightened state of alert." He said this meant, among other things, use of equipment including bulletproof vests, use of two-officer patrol teams, awareness of chemical and biological warfare agents, and observance of prescribed communication procedures.
"Having the largest oil refinery in the Western Hemisphere, we are vulnerable and must be mindful that as the threat level increases, we must take all precautions to ensure our safety and that of our community," Christian said.
Along with cruise ships, Hovensa is the target most often mentioned when residents talk about who and what is vulnerable in the Virgin Islands.
Refinery product demand down, cost up
At the huge oil refinery on St. Croix, Hovensa's vice president for government affairs and community relations, Alex Moorhead, said the need for increased security has impacted the company's bottom line. Additionally, with reduced travel on the part of many Americans after Sept. 11 last year came a reduced need for fuel. This hurt business at Hovensa and other refineries, Moorhead said.
"We're caught in a vice. The demand for product is down and the cost of operation is up," Moorhead said. He noted that most of the crude oil processed at Hovensa comes from Venezuela, so talk of war in the oil-rich Middle East does not carry with it any significant impact on the St. Croix operations.
At The West Indian Co., chief executive Edward E. Thomas Sr. said that after a flurry of tightened security in the days immediately following the terrorist attacks, the situation is back on a more even keel. "We have come back 99 percent to pre-Sept. 11 in terms of security issues," Thomas said.
Right after Sept. 11, the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service screened every arriving cruise ship passenger. They now do what they did prior to that date — screen only those who carry passports from other countries.
And right after Sept. 11, INS refused to allow cruise ship crews, who are mostly foreign nationals, to come ashore while ships were in port. Thomas said this had a huge negative impact on services and restaurants in the Havensight area that depend on those crews to fill their cash registers. That rule, too, is no longer in force.
However, the Coast Guard still has jurisdiction over the strip of pavement 50 meters wide along the cruise ship docks, something it acquired after the terrorist attacks. Thomas said the Coast Guard also does not allow containers brought onto the WICO dock for ship provisioning purposes to remain overnight. He said, as an example, that terrorists could fill empty containers with explosives.
For the cruise sector, there is a silver lining, Thomas said: Because many people are still afraid to fly, cruise lines are beginning to homeport ships that cruise the Caribbean in such Gulf ports as Tampa, New Orleans and Houston, instead of just Miami, Fort Lauderdale and San Juan. While cruises out of those ports have been mostly to the Western Caribbean, without calls in the Virgin Islands, so far, this could change; if so, it could help increase the number of visitors to the territory.
McKinley Welsh, chief of security at St. Croix's Henry E. Rohlsen Airport, said the Port Authority has increased security measures. "Certain things are done as a matter of course," he said.
While many of those measures remain confidential, he said that vehicles may no longer be left unattended at the curbs. While baggage at St. Thomas's Cyril E. King Airport goes through a screener, he said, the St. Croix airport does not yet have that equipment.
Welsh said the target date for federal Transportation Security Administration screeners to come on line, replacing private-sector personnel, remains at Nov. 19.
Park Service diverting staff to "icon" sites
Steve Clark, the chief enforcement ranger for the V.I. National Park on St. John, also was tight-lipped about the specifics of protecting the park and St. John's shoreline. He said park rangers now vary their patrol hours to including nights, do more plainclothes work, and provide protection for facilities such as the park's water plant. "The law-enforcement staff is better trained to look for suspicious activities and packages," he said.
The park now also works more closely with the FBI. Clark holds a seat on the territory's Joint Terrorism Task Force, which he said facilitates the exchange of information.
Clark said he and his rangers rotate off island for three-week stints to protect what the National Park Service views as "icon parks," national treasures such as Mount Rushmore in South Dakota and Independence Hall in Philadelphia. These and others represent the American tradition of liberty and justice, which make them vulnerable to terrorist attacks, authorities believe.
"Committing our resources is mandatory," Clark said. While reducing the staff by one person at a time hurts the park on St. John, he said, he views it as a patriotic duty.
Lee Vanterpool, a Government House spokesman, said the Health Department has continued to work with the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on bioterrorism issues. He said the department has received Law Enforcement Planning Commission grants to train emergency medical technicians in dealing with bioterrorism and that equipment has been upgraded.
Hotels have also stepped up security in subtle ways, according to David Yamada, president of the St. Thomas-St. John Hotel and Tourism Association. For example, he said, at the Renaissance Grand Beach Resort, where he is general manager, the staff is more diligent at the hotel entrance and in general practices more vigilance. He said most hotels follow similar practices.
The territory is on heightened alert, acknowledges Harold Baker, director of the V.I. Territorial Emergency Management Agency. "We've looked at all plans and made sure they're in order and up to date," he said, speaking about the readiness of government departments and agencies.
He said the territory has participated in various emergency preparedness events, including an exercise with the Federal Emergency Management Agency and cruise ships, an airport drill, and hazardous material training for the appropriate agencies. "We must maintain a state of vigilance," he said.
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