Information on Port Security in the Caribbean Basin

GAO-07-804R: Published: Jun 29, 2007. Publicly Released: Jun 29, 2007.

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Stephen L. Caldwell
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Referred to as our "third border," the Caribbean Basin has significant maritime links with the United States. Given these links and the region's proximity, the United States is particularly interested in ensuring that the ports in the Caribbean Basin--through which goods bound for this country's ports and cruise ships carrying its citizens must travel--are secure. Section 233 (c) of the Security and Accountability for Every Port Act of 2006 (SAFE Port Act) requires GAO to report on various security-related aspects of Caribbean Basin ports. Our specific objectives were to identify and describe the (1) threats and security concerns in the Caribbean Basin related to port security, (2) actions that foreign governments and local stakeholders have taken in the Caribbean Basin to implement international port security requirements and the challenges that remain, (3) activities reported to be under way by U.S. government agencies to enhance port security in the Caribbean Basin, and (4) potential economic impacts of port security and terrorist attacks in the Caribbean Basin. Between March 29 and April 13, 2007, we briefed Congress on the results of our work to address these objectives. This report summarizes the information provided during those discussions. We conducted our work from October 2006 through June 2007 in accordance with generally accepted government auditing standards.

While intelligence sources report that no specific, credible terrorist threats to maritime security exist in the Caribbean Basin, the officials we spoke to indicated that there are a number of security concerns that could affect port security in the region. Caribbean ports contain a variety of facilities such as cargo facilities, cruise ship terminals, and facilities that handle petroleum products and liquefied natural gas. Additionally, several Caribbean ports are among the top cruise ship destinations in the world. Given the volume and value of this maritime trade, the facilities and infrastructure of the maritime transportation system may be attractive targets for a terrorist attack. Our prior work on maritime security issues has revealed that the three most likely modes of attack in the port environment are a suicide attack using an explosive-laden vehicle or vessel, a standoff attack using small arms or rockets, and the traditional armed assault. Beyond the types of facilities and modes of attack to be considered, officials we spoke to identified a number of overarching security concerns that relate to the Caribbean Basin as a whole. Among these concerns are (1) the level of corruption that exists in some Caribbean nations to undermine the rule of law in these countries, (2) organized gang activity occurring in proximity to or within port facilities, and (3) the geographic proximity of many Caribbean countries, which has made them transit countries for cocaine and heroin destined for U.S. markets. Other security concerns in the Caribbean Basin mentioned by U.S. agency officials include stowaways, illegal migration, and the growing influence of Islamic radical groups and other foreign terrorist organizations.

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