PORTLAND – The city where hijackers Mohamed Atta and Abdulaziz Alomari started the day Sept. 11, 2001, has boosted security at the Portland International Jetport. Now it is looking to become the first city to require screening of cruise ship passengers.

The city plans to require airport-level screening of all cruise ship and international ferry passengers next year.

Under a law enacted last year, many U.S. coastal facilities, ports and ships must develop security plans by July 2004 and pay for guards, alarms, cameras and metal detectors. Local ferries such as Portland’s Casco Bay Lines are preparing to install cameras on boats and around piers.

But Portland Ports and Transportation Director Jeffrey Monroe wants to take security a step further. The city already obtained funding for equipment and hopes to have the screening process in place by spring.

“The goal is that we want the passenger to experience a consistent security program,” Monroe said.

The Transportation Security Administration, which is considering Portland’s request to put TSA screeners on the waterfront, is just now starting to think about water transportation, said spokeswoman Ann Davis. For the past two years the TSA concentrated on upgrading airport security.

“We see all modes of transportation as equally important. But how our resources will be expanded remains to be seen at the ports,” she said.

U.S. Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins of Maine have endorsed the proposal. A Snowe spokesman said the TSA has expressed interest, but the agency seems hesitant to take on more than airports.

Collins, chairwoman of the Governmental Affairs Committee, sent a letter to TSA Chairman James Loy in support of the program recently, but there’s no indication which way the agency is leaning, a spokeswoman said.

Hawaii proposed a similar measure in June, but has not submitted a plan to the TSA. An experimental system in Florida, run by the cruise industry, screens passengers at airports and transports them to their cruise line’s port.

Portland’s proposal would apply airline-level security to all cruise ship passengers whenever they exit and enter their ship.

Portland is unique in that it is home to both the Portland International Jetport and two terminals that handle cruise ship passengers and international ferry passengers.

One is home to the Scotia Prince, which ferries passengers from Portland to Yarmouth, Nova Scotia. The ferry is in port twice a day with up to 1,000 passengers, as well as 200 cars. A separate terminal handles traditional cruise ships, which arrive sporadically throughout the year. Two screening machines will be installed at the Scotia Prince port and one at the ocean terminal.

Portland isn’t waiting for federal approval. Three screening terminals are already en route at a cost of $750,000, paid for from a federal Maritime Security Act Grant Program.

Portland had hoped to have the program in place on the second anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks in which ringleader Atta flew from Portland with Alomari before boarding American Airlines Flight 11, which crashed into the World Trade Center’s North Tower.

But the program is now expected to be in place next spring, when the cruise ship season starts up.

Portland hopes the TSA will pick up the cost of screeners, some of whom will leave the airport to work on the waterfront as needed. If not, Portland will pick up the program’s costs either through taxpayer money or a surcharge levied on ships that dock in Portland.

While cruise ships don’t hold the same level of threat as airplanes, they still pose a threat, Monroe said. Cruise ships on the whole are better fortified against terrorist attacks – crew members are allowed to carry guns, and “no one’s going to commandeer a ship with a pen knife,” Monroe said.

However, it could carry explosives, transport terrorists from city to city and its passengers could be held hostage. In 1985, terrorists seized the cruise ship Achille Lauro in the Mediterranean and killed one of its passengers.

The pilot program would take those measures a step further. Passengers exiting vessels will be held in a “sterile area” and funneled through two screening stations.

International Council of Cruise Lines, the cruise industry’s trade group, isn’t sure the additional measures are needed.

“To the extent that they would be required to go through a separate screening at the terminal at a port of call, as well as the ship, it seems a bit redundant,” President Michael Crye said.

The screening would almost certainly delay passenger forays into Portland’s Old Port shopping district. But businesses in Portland’s Old Port haven’t expressed any concerns that the new regulations will hamper business, said W. Godfrey Wood of the Greater Portland Chambers of Commerce.

Carnival Corp. spokeswoman Jennifer De La Cruz said the world’s largest cruise company already has similar measures in place on its ships, which can hold between 2,000 to 3,000 passengers.

The additional security is just something passengers will have to get used to, Monroe said. One way or the other, he said, “you’re going to wind up spending a lot of time getting sniffed.”

Carnival Victory cruise ship passengers disembarking in Portland this week had mixed reactions to the plan. Carnival passengers must use picture identification to obtain access to the ship, and passengers must go through a metal detector and their baggage and packages are subject to screening before boarding the ship. Tom and Songia Brusche of Michigan said added measures aren’t necessary. A lengthy security line while trying to exit the ship at Boston annoyed them.

“We’re on vacation. We pay lots of money to do this,” Songia Brusche said. “There was 3,000 people coming out of one little hole all at the same time.”

Passengers Ann Roland and Mark Cohen said a little extra security wouldn’t ruin their day. “I wouldn’t mind it, because you never know,” said Roland, of New York City.

AP-ES-09-09-03 1348EDT

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