MIAMI -- U.S. port agencies plan to apply for more than $222 million in grants under the Transportation Department's new port security grants program, far more than the $93.3 million Congress appropriated, port officials said.

According to the American Association of Port Authorities (AAPA), U.S. ports have spent nearly $50 million on security measures since Sept. 11, including new personnel, gate controls, surveillance systems, lighting and fencing.

"We need help to sustain security," said Kurt Nagle, chief executive of the AAPA, at the Seatrade Cruise Shipping Convention here.

Nagle said current resources aren't enough to coordinate all the different levels of law enforcement that patrol the ports or to pay for necessary security upgrades.

"Funding for port security is critical," he said. "Seaport security always has been important; since Sept. 11, it is a top priority."

According to the AAPA, more than 6 million North American cruise passengers passed through port authorities in 2000.

The Senate in December passed a bill that would provide $390 million in grants and $166 million in loan guarantees for security enhancements at ports and cruise terminals over a five-year period.

The bill, S. 1214, also calls for the DOT to coordinate maritime security and asks for additional funding for U.S. Customs and the Coast Guard.

A similar bill is scheduled to be introduced in the House this month, Nagle said.

Although cruise terminal representatives admitted there are no guarantees that port security is impenetrable, George Williamson, port director of the Tampa (Fla.) Port Authority, said, "The cruise business is probably the safest form of entertainment out there."

Maritime safety measures continue to operate at the highest level, Nagle said, which includes use of drug- and chemical-sniffing dogs, diving teams that inspect slips before the ship arrives, additional security checks for passengers and increased surveillance networks.

Williamson said cruise passengers can sometimes go through as many as seven different security checks before embarkation.

"Cruise passengers are incredibly resilient," he said. "Their sense is this is for their well-being."

But, he added, "hopefully, [new] technology will speed this along, and passengers can be identified as they come on board."

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