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Dec. 15, 2003 – The U.S. Coast Guard 7th District, which includes the Virgin Islands, issued a warning on Monday that it may impose civil penalties on vessels and maritime transport facilities that fail to meet a Dec. 31 deadline for submitting mandatory security plans.
The deadline applies to all ships and facilities affected by the federal Maritime Transportation Security Act of 2002. According to a Coast Guard release, about a thousand U.S. flag vessels and nearly 500 facilities in the 7th district fall into that category.
The district encompasses South Carolina, Georgia, Florida and Puerto Rico, in addition to the U.S. Virgin Islands.
The Coast Guard, which now falls within the Department of Homeland Security, spelled out the security plan requirements and deadlines in rules published last July 1.
Starting Jan. 1, according to the release, "the Coast Guard will begin enforcing the security plan submission requirement. Failure to submit a plan is a violation of the MTSA rules and may result in a civil penalty of up to $25,000 per violation against the owner or operator of the vessel or facility. After July 1, 2004, non-compliant operators may have their operation shut down until an approved security plan is in place."
The release noted that the Coast Guard allows industry groups to develop their own "alternative security programs" for a group of vessels or facilities. So far, such programs have been approved for the Passenger Vessel Association, American Gaming Association and American Waterways Operators. Entities implementing alternative programs must advise the Coast Guard in writing of the plan, identify the vessels or facilities affected, and attest "that they are in full compliance."
According to the Coast Guard, foreign-flag vessels subject to the requirements of the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea should submit their security plans to their flag states or flag administrations as specified in the International Ship and Port Facility Security Code. These plans are not to be submitted to the Coast Guard.
After July 1, 2004, the release stated, "the Coast Guard will begin boarding these vessels to insure that the security plan has been properly implemented."
The Coast Guard has established a Help Desk to assist maritime industry personnel with understanding the regulations. It can be reached weekdays from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. local time by e-mail or by calling (877) 687-2243 or (202) 366-9991.
The full text of the rules and other information can be found on the Coast Guard's port security Web site.

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