The SPEAKER pro tempore. Under a previous order of the House, the gentleman from California (Mr. Schiff) is recognized for 5 minutes.
Mr. SCHIFF. Mr. Speaker, along with the gentleman from North Carolina (Mr. Coble), chairman of the Judiciary Committee's Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security, I am pleased to introduce the Reducing Crime and Terrorism at America's Seaports Act of 2005.
There are 361 seaports in the United States that serve essential national interests by facilitating the flow of trade and the movement of cruise passengers, as well as supporting the effective and safe deployment of U.S. Armed Forces. These seaport facilities and other marine areas cover some 3.5 million square miles of ocean area and 95,000 miles of coastline.
Millions of shipping containers pass through our ports every month. A single container has room for as much as 60,000 pounds of explosives, 10 to 15 times the amount in the Ryder truck used to blow up the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. When you consider that a single ship can carry as many as 8,000 containers at one time, the vulnerability of our seaports is alarming.
Each year, more than 141 million ferry and cruise ship passengers, more than 2 billion tons of domestic and international freight and 3 billion tons of oil move through U.S. seaports. Millions of truck-size cargo containers are off-loaded onto U.S. docks. Many seaports are still protected by little more than a chain link fence and, in far too many instances, have no adequate safeguards to ensure that only authorized personnel can access sensitive areas of the port. If we allow this system to continue unchecked, it is only a matter of time until terrorists attempt to deliver a weapon of mass destruction to our doorstep via ship, truck or cargo container.
New reports by the Government Accountability Office, Congress' investigative arm, fault both the Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism and the Container Security Initiative. C-TPAT allows international shippers to get quicker clearance through Customs in exchange for voluntary security measures. But the GAO said that the U.S. Customs and Border Protection's vetting process was not thorough enough. It found that only 10 percent of the certified members had been validated through an actual physical inspection by the Agency. The rest had been certified by paperwork applications.
As part of the recently passed Homeland Security authorization bill, the House took some important steps to improve the screening of cargo by expanding the Container Security Initiative and refocusing it, based on risk. But the truth is that not every container can be inspected, and we need to use other tools at our disposal to deter those who would use our seaports as a point of attack until we can inspect or somehow verify each container. Strengthening criminal penalties, as Chairman Coble and I are proposing with this bill, is one way we make our Nation's ports less vulnerable.
The Reducing Crime and Terrorism at America's Seaports Act of 2005 will fill a gaping hole in our defense against terrorism and make American ports, passengers and cargo safer. Our bill is substantially similar to bipartisan Senate legislation introduced earlier this year by Senators Biden and Specter and supported by other key members of the Judiciary Committee, including Senators Dianne Feinstein and Orrin Hatch. The Senate version of this legislation has been reported favorably by the Senate Judiciary Committee and is awaiting action by the full Senate.
Our bill makes common-sense changes to our criminal laws and will help to close security gaps confronting our ports. The amendment will make it a crime to use a vessel to smuggle terrorists or dangerous materials, including nuclear material, into the U.S., impose stiff criminal penalties for providing false information to a Federal law enforcement officer at a port or on a vessel, and double the sentence of anyone who fraudulently gains access to a seaport.
Our bill would also directly access several immediate threats by increasing penalties for smugglers who misrepresent illicit cargo. It would also bridge specific gaps in current Federal law by making it a crime for a vessel operator to fail to stop when ordered to do so by a Federal law enforcement officer.
Mr. Speaker, America's ports remain vulnerable and this Nation needs a multifaceted strategy to secure them and to deter those who would harm this country. The Reducing Crime and Terrorism at America's Seaports Act of 2005 is part of that strategy.
I urge my colleagues to join Chairman Coble and me by cosponsoring this legislation.