The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) currently checks passenger manifests for commercial airplanes to determine if any potential terrorists have booked a flight and it could start doing the same for cruise ships, according to a report in HSToday. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) recommended May 10 that U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) examine the possibility of checking passenger reservations for cruise ships in much the same way that the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) does for airlines. “Cruise ships are the single largest passenger conveyances in the world, with one ship currently in service that can carry more than 8,500 passengers and crew,” GAO said in its report, Maritime Security: Varied Actions Taken to Enhance Cruise Ship Security, but Some Concerns Remain. “The Coast Guard considers cruise ships to be highly attractive targets to terrorists, and according to a 2008 RAND Corporation report, cruise ships can represent high-prestige symbolic targets for terrorists. Moreover, terrorists have either targeted cruise ships or been able to board cruise ships in the past.” In 2008 (the last year examined by GAO), more than 9 million passengers sailed from U.S. ports onboard cruise ships. The Coast Guard is the lead agency charged with assessing risk onboard cruise ships as it holds responsibility for maritime security functions at DHS. But CBP has expertise in vetting passenger reservation data, and has performed analysis of cruise-ship passenger manifests in the past as a means to analyze the level of risk various cruises might face from terrorism, the GAO report noted. As such, CBP is well positioned to conduct a study to see if reports on passenger data from cruise lines would prove beneficial to protecting them from terrorist attack as well as to determine the best means of vetting such passenger data, GAO suggested. A terrorist attack that closed ports could cause a ripple effect, slowing down the demand for cruise travel for some time, crippling an industry that contributed roughly $19 billion to the U.S. economy in 2008, the report said.

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