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2004-04-05 17:09:01

Feds: Bahamas Air Travelers Not Adequately Screened

About five major carriers fly from the Bahamas to about 30 U.S. cities, and several smaller charter operations fly to a host of other destinations.

Passengers who board commercial flights in the Bahamas and other Caribbean nations are not adequately screened for explosives, posing a major security concern in the United States, federal officials said Friday.

The problem is those travelers, who generally arrive here on smaller commuter planes, can catch a connecting flight on big airliners, officials said. Airports in West Palm Beach, Fort Lauderdale and Miami receive most of the Bahamas air traffic.

Transportation Security Administration spokeswoman Lauren Stover said her agency "is working diligently to address this situation, as we have concerns."

Currently, U.S. Customs inspectors check passengers boarding U.S.-bound flights in the Bahamas, and do not search their carry-on items or their persons for explosives or metal components, Stover said. However, she noted all checked baggage is screened for dangerous items.

About five major carriers fly from the Bahamas to about 30 U.S. cities, and several smaller charter operations fly to a host of other destinations, most in South Florida, officials said.

Stover said Customs -- not the TSA -- also checks U.S.-bound passengers in other Caribbean nations.

Since it took over airline security in February 2002, the TSA has spent almost $12 billion to enhance security, much of it on explosive detection devices placed at 429 U.S. commercial airports.

Bruce Pelly, director of Palm Beach International Airport, considered the Bahamas security gap dire enough to send a memo to U.S. Sen. Bob Graham, noting that screening in the island nation fails to meet TSA requirements.

Pelly said the airport, in conjunction with Gulfstream International Airlines, has devised a "temporary fix," where passengers arriving from the Bahamas would not be allowed into secure areas in the terminal without going through TSA screeners. He added that would be "a major inconvenience to our passengers."

He asked whether Homeland Security, which oversees Customs, could cross-train its agents to stiffen pre-screening in foreign airports.

"If this solution is not feasible, then Homeland Security should reposition Customs agents and have all passengers pass through customs at their destinations in the United States," Pelly said in the memo.

Miami and Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood airports are vulnerable to the same security gap, officials said.

"Mr. Pelly's comments have merit," Stover said. "We are working on this very issue right now."

Ken Kaye, The Sun-Sentinel 

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