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Maritime Security: Varied Actions Taken to Enhance Cruise Ship Security, but Some Concerns Remain

GAO-10-400 Published: Apr 09, 2010. Publicly Released: May 10, 2010.
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Over 9 million passengers departed from U.S. ports on cruise ships in 2008, and according to agency officials, cruise ships are attractive terrorist targets. GAO was asked to review cruise ship security, and this report addresses the extent to which (1) the Coast Guard, the lead federal agency on maritime security, assessed risk in accordance with the Department of Homeland Security's (DHS) guidance and identified risks; and (2) federal agencies, cruise ship and facility operators, and law enforcement entities have taken actions to protect cruise ships and their facilities. GAO reviewed relevant requirements and agency documents on maritime security, analyzed 2006 through 2008 security operations data, interviewed federal and industry officials, and made observations at seven ports. GAO selected these locations based on factors such as the number of sailings from each port. Results of the visits provided additional information on security, but were not projectable to all ports.


Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
United States Customs and Border Protection To enhance the existing screening process for cruise ship passengers, the CBP Commissioner should conduct a study to determine whether requiring cruise lines to provide automated Passenger Name Record data to CBP on a systematic basis would benefit homeland security, and if found to be of substantial benefit, determine the appropriate mechanism through which to issue this requirement. The scope of the study should include potential benefits to security, any need for additional authority and international agreements, resource implications for CBP and the cruise industry, privacy concerns, and any implementation issues related to the automated transfer of Passenger Name Record data from the cruise lines to CBP.
Closed – Implemented
We reviewed efforts to prevent terrorist attacks on cruise ships and recommended that Customs and Border Protection (CBP) conduct a study to determine whether requiring cruise lines to provide automated Passenger Name Record data to CBP on a systematic basis would benefit homeland security. In response, CBP determined that obtaining such information would be beneficial and began efforts to work with the Coast Guard and the cruise lines to obtain Passenger Name Record data. Specifically, CBP determined that an interactive data system linked with cruise operators would be a logical means of obtaining such information, based on their past and ongoing experience collecting such information from air carriers for aviation passengers. As a result, CBP moved forward to work directly with the Coast Guard and cruise lines to establish such a system--rather than conduct a study. We believe that this action meets the intent of our recommendation.

Full Report

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Coast Guard personnelData collectionFacility securityLaw enforcementMaritime securityPort securityRisk assessmentRisk managementSecurity regulationsSecurity threatsShipsStrategic planningTerrorismTerroristsAssessmentsBenefit-cost tracking