US Heightens Security Concerns at Commercial Ports

Ships entering the U.S. that have previously passed through Cambodia’s two main commercial ports will be forced to enact new security measures after the U.S. Department of Homeland Security announced last week that the Phnom Penh and Sihanoukville autonomous ports were failing to maintain effective anti-terrorism checks.

As of September 29, ships docking at either of the two ports en route to the U.S. will now be forced to ramp up their security measures or face being turned away by the U.S. Coast Guard, and may be required to employ armed security guards.

“The Coast Guard has determined that the Phnom Penh Autonomous Port and the Sihanoukville Autonomous Port in Cambodia are no longer maintaining effective anti-terrorism measures,” a document released September 15 by the Department of Homeland Security says.

In 2008, the U.S. slapped the same tight controls on vessels that had passed through Cambodia’s other ports, which are privately owned and operate under the radar of international maritime laws, leaving them vulnerable to illegal activity.

The Sihanoukville and Phnom Penh ports were exempted at the time, as they were deemed to have adequate anti-terrorism measures in place.

The revocation of those exemptions comes almost five years after Cambodia signed the 2009 U.S. Megaports Initiative, which sought to furnish 100 seaport with radiation-sensing systems by 2015, to bolster the Sihanoukville port’s ability to deter and detect illicit smuggling of nuclear and radioactive material. In 2011, the U.S. installed a radioactive scanner worth $6 million at the port and provided funding to train staff in its use through 2015.

And in November, the European Union signed an agreement with Cambodia to provide the country with additional radiation-detection equipment and counterterrorism technology for use at the Phnom Penh port and the Phnom Penh and Siem Reap international airports.

Om Yentieng, vice-chairman of the National Counter Terrorism Committee, who signed off on the deal, said at the time that Cambodia’s cooperation was merely an effort to ease the concerns of the international community.

“In fact, terrorism is not a problem for Cambodia and I guarantee that the country is not a target for terrorists,” he said. “But there is a lot of interest in this for embassies…who are guests and so, as the owner of the house, the government must protect them against terrorists.”

In May, the Asean Regional Forum’s 2014 Annual Security Outlook highlighted maritime security as one of Cambodia’s main security problems.

Government officials could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

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