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Homeland Security Tightens the Maritime Knot

June 18, 2008 — By April 2009, as many as 5,500 people throughout the territory will be issued biometrically encoded federal identification cards designed to increase security around the islands' ports and maritime facilities.
The program, sponsored by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), intends to register 1.2 million maritime transportation system workers across the country and territory. It kicked off Wednesday on St. Thomas and St. John following a June 5 launch on St. Croix.
Anyone whose job involves access to certain maritime facilities or vessels will be required to pass a security-clearance process, which includes a so-called "threat assessment" that matches the individual's name against a terrorist watch list. In addition, a criminal background check is performed, as well as an examination of the individual's immigration status. Once cleared, workers will receive a Transportation Worker Identification Credential (TWIC) card.
"It's a very sophisticated, secure card," said Sari Koshetz, public affairs manager for the DHS's Transportation Security Administration. "It has several features that are tamper-proof, including embedded biometric information."
The biometric information consists of a fingerprint that becomes embedded in the card, enabling a special machine to scan information and match the card with the card holder. The machine, called a reader, has yet to be produced and Koshetz is not sure when it will debut. In the meantime, come April 2009, individuals will start checking the TWIC cards of anyone seeking entrance, unescorted, to secure or restricted waterfront facilities and public vessels.
There are 26 regulated facilities on St. Thomas and St. John, including such places as Crown Bay Cargo Port, Enighed Pond facility and Havensight, as well as the passenger-ferry facilities at Gallows Bay, Cruz Bay, Red Hook and downtown Charlotte Amalie, according to Lt. Sancho Johnson of the St. Thomas Coast Guard.
Gary Scott, a boat captain for Water Taxi Red Hook Boat Services, believes the new system will be a welcome new safety protocol.
"On larger boats there are secured areas — say an engine room on a ferry or a helm station where the captain is — and you'd have a reader there so a passenger couldn't get in," explained Scott, who was registering for his TWIC card Wednesday.
The registration program is being conducted in the territory by Lockheed Martin Corporation. Locations will be open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday at Nisky Center, Suite 202-A, St. Thomas, and at Renaissance Park, Estate Anguilla, Kingshill, St. Croix. All licensed mariners of vessels that transport people or cargo, as well as longshoremen, truckers and port workers, will have to register to receive a TWIC card. The card is renewed every five years.
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