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Statements on Introduced Bills and Joint Resolutions

Location: Washington DC


Mr. BIDEN (for himself, Mr. Specter, Mrs. Feinstein, Mr. Kyl, Mr. Hollings, and Mr. Allen):

S. 2653. A bill to make it a criminal act to willfully use a weapon with the intent to cause death or serious bodily injury to any person while on board a passenger vessel, and for other purposes; to the Committee on the Judiciary.

Mr. BIDEN. Mr. President, I rise today to introduce the Reducing Crime and Terrorism at America's Seaports Act, along with Senators Specter, Feinstein, Kyl, Hollings, and Allen. Today's bill is a revised version of legislation Senator Specter and I introduced last year, S. 1587. The bill benefits from the expertise of the Chairman and Ranking Member of the Judiciary Subcommittee on Terrorism, Senators Kyl and Feinstein. My colleagues have their own bill on this subject, S. 746, and I am grateful that they are original cosponsors of today's measure. The Ranking Member of the Commerce Committee, my good friend Senator Hollings, has also been a leader in this area and today's bill incorporates suggestions made by him and his able staff. Senator Specter and I have worked long and hard on this issue, and it is my sincere hope and expectation that the bill we introduce today is a consensus measure that will swiftly pass the Senate this year.

Today, almost three years after the devastating attacks of September 11, our Nation's transportation infrastructure remains vulnerable to terrorist activity. American ports are critical to the nation's commercial well-being, and we must do all that we can to ensure that our laws keep pace with the threats that they face.

Recently, Homeland Security Secretary Ridge traveled to the Port of Los Angeles/Long Beach to announce that the Untied States was in full compliance with the International Ship and Port Facility Security Code, and that his department was working to meet the requirements of the Maritime Transportation Security Act. I welcome those announcements, but there is more we should be doing to protect our ports and close existing gaps in our criminal code. The bill Senator SPECTER and I introduce today starts to close those gaps.

Our bill will double the maximum term of imprisonment for anyone who fraudulently gains access to a seaport or waterfront. The Interagency Commission on Crime and Security at U.S. Seaports concluded that "control of access to the seaport or sensitive areas within the seaports" poses one of the greatest potential threats to port security. Such unauthorized access continues and exposes the nation's seaports, and the communities that surround them, to acts of terrorism, sabotage or theft. Our bill will help deter those who seek unauthorized access to our ports by imposing stiffer penalties.

Our bill would also increase penalties for noncompliance with certain manifest reporting and record-keeping requirements, including information regarding the content of cargo containers and the country from which the shipments originated. An estimated 95 percent of the cargo shipped to the U.S. from foreign countries, other than Canada and Mexico, arrives throughout seaports. Accordingly, the Interagency Commission found that this enormous flow of goods through U.S. ports provides a tempting target for terrorists and others to smuggle illicit cargo into the country, while also making "our ports potential targets for terrorist attacks." In addition, the smuggling of non-dangerous, but illicit, cargo may be used to finance terrorism. Despite the gravity of the threat, we continue to operate in an environment in which terrorists and criminals can evade detection by underreporting and misreporting the content of cargo. Increased penalties can help here.

The legislation we introduce today would also make it a crime for a vessel operator to fail to slow or stop a ship once ordered to do so by a federal law enforcement officer; for any person on board a vessel to impede boarding or other law enforcement action authorized by federal law; or for any person on board a vessel to provide false information to a federal law enforcement officer. The Coast Guard is the main federal agency responsible for law enforcement at sea. Yet, its ability to force a vessel to stop or be boarded is limited. While the Coast Guard has the authority to use whatever force is reasonably necessary, a vessel operator's refusal to stop is not currently a crime. This bill would create that offense.

In addition, the Coast Guard maintains over 50,000 navigational aids on more than 25,000 miles of waterways. These aids, which are relied upon by all commercial, military and recreational mariners, are critical for safe navigation by commercial and military vessels. They could be inviting targets for terrorists. Our legislation would make it a crime to endanger the safe navigation of a ship by damaging any maritime navigational aid maintained by the Coast Guard; place in the waters anything which is likely to damage a vessel or its cargo, interfere with a vessel's safe navigation, or interfere with maritime commerce; or dump a hazardous substance into U.S. waters, with the intent to endanger human life or welfare.

Each year, thousands of ships enter and leave the U.S. through seaports. Smugglers and terrorists exploit this massive flow of maritime traffic to transport dangerous materials and dangerous people into this country. This legislation would make it a crime to use a vessel to smuggle into the United States either a terrorist or any explosive or other dangerous material for use in committing a terrorist act. The bill would also make it a crime to damage or destroy any part of a ship, a maritime facility, or anything used to load or unload cargo and passengers; commit a violent assault on anyone at a maritime facility; or knowingly communicate a hoax in a way which endangers the safety of a vessel. In addition, the Interagency Commission concluded that existing laws are not stiff enough to stop certain crimes, including cargo theft, at seaports. Our legislation would increase the maximum term of imprisonment for low-level thefts of interstate or foreign shipments from 1 year to 3 years and expand the statute to outlaw theft of goods from trailers, cargo containers, warehouses, and similar venues.

I thank my colleagues for their support of this measure, and I look forward to its prompt consideration by the full Senate.

I ask unanimous consent that the text of the bill be printed in the RECORD.

There being no objection, the bill was ordered to be printed in the Record, as follows:

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