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Industries, ports, airports heighten security on Coast

MISSISSIPPI GULF COAST — State ports, airports, military facilities and industries both large and small are committed to not allowing the Sept. 11th terrorist attacks disrupt the normal flow of business. But additional precautions have been added to increase security in the wake of the terrorist attacks.

The U.S.S. Cole, damaged by an earlier terrorism attack in Yemen, had finished undergoing repairs at Northrup Grumman Ship Systems, Ingalls operations in Pascagoula. Unannounced the Cole left a day earlier than scheduled soon after the terrorist attacks Sept. 11.

There were reports that two Middle Eastern men had tried to charter fishing boats in Biloxi the day the Cole was launched. The men had raised suspicions by saying they wanted to go east towards Pascagoula when the most popular fishing grounds are south of Biloxi.

The charter attempts failed. But even if they had succeeded and a second terrorist attempt on the Cole was planned, the fishing vessel wouldn’t have gotten anywhere near the Cole. A six-mile safety zone around the Cole was strictly enforced.

Although some U.S. ports were shut down for a period of time after September 11, movements into and out of the ports at Pascagoula and Gulfport have not been disrupted. However, the U.S. Coast Guard has implemented safety and security zones, and is closely monitoring all vessel traffic.

John Webb, interim port director for the Mississippi State Port Authority at Gulfport, said the Coast Guard has emphasized a heightened sense of security. Any vessels in excess of 300 tons are required to have permission and approval from the Coast Guard Marine Safety Office in Mobile. Webb said that was more in an effort to track than to restrict movements.

Webb said that, for the most part, it has been business as usual at the port.

“We’re just being very careful with our security checkpoints and access,” Webb said. “It is essential we get back to businesses as usual. As far as movement into and out of Gulfport, nothing has changed. We’re just keeping a watchful eye out.”

Chevron Pascagoula Refinery, one of the top 10 largest refineries in the country, has also heightened security. The refinery also had to dispel rumors and false reports of the refinery shutting down and cutting off product supplies, and a false report of a “suspicious character” inquiring about refinery plans.

“Several of us spent most of Sept. 11 talking to the news media and the public dispelling rumors,” said Chevron’s spokesman Steve Renfroe. “While none of this was true, we have strengthened our security and continue to be extra cautious. Given the circumstances, I guess it’s not surprising there was a great deal of uncertainty about refinery operations.”

Chevron also spoke out against reported gas gouging at some service stations saying: “We are particularly incensed where any retailer is taking advantage of customers through extraordinary price increases. We strongly urge all retailers to do everything in their power to maintain normal marketplace pricing since that is in the best interest of our customers and our nation. We have and will continue to exercise restraint in our pricing decisions during this difficult period.

“Our job during this time and at all times is to continue the ongoing, stable supply of the products our customers expect from us. We pledge to do everything we can to keep our refining and marketing system operating at peak efficiency to deliver the reliable supplies of fuels we all need.”

Chevron and Texaco, which are merging, each pledged $5 million to the relief effort in response to the terrorist attacks. The companies also encouraged their employees to help by donating blood or making a financial contribution to a relief agency.

DuPont, which has a large plant in DeLisle (Harrison County), donated $5 million dollars to assist victims of the terrorist attack and their families.

DuPont DeLisle has added security precautions that include inspection of all vehicles entering the plant, and a requirement that all incoming shipments be prearranged.

At Mississippi Power Company’s facilities, there has not been much change in operations since the attack, said spokesman Kurt Brautigam.

“At the time of the attack we asked employees to raise their level of awareness as a precaution,” Brautigam said. “But there has been no reason to believe anything unusual would occur at any of our company’s locations. Our normal security policies remain in effect and security personnel are in contact with appropriate law enforcement agencies.”

Access to the power plants was already controlled by security officers prior to the terrorist attacks.

Michael Olivier, executive director, Harrison County Development Commission, said heightened security at industries, as well as at public facilities such as airports and ports, is natural considering the circumstances. But there is no reason to believe the Gulf Coast would be a target.

“There are too many other targets to choose from,” Olivier said. “At the same time, I can assure you that everyone is being vigilant.”

Olivier said Coast businesses have been generous giving in the wake of the disasters. Besides large donations from parent corporations, Olivier said a number of companies are donating office furniture being collected by a professional association to assist businesses that were hardest hit by the disaster.

One Coast business, Baber’s, a leasing and check-cashing business based in Pascagoula, responded in a unique way. The 170 employees of Baber’s were given an unexpected $25 bonus check with a note from their bosses telling them to spend the money to help the economy.

“Go out to eat, buy clothes, go to a movie, buy a gift for someone — just spend it,” said the letter from Cynthia Baber-Strunk and Shannon Strunk, the top executives at Baber’s. “To stop spending at this time is the worst thing we can do for the strength of our nation. It is important for us to help keep the economy strong.”

Contact MBJ staff writer Becky Gillette at mullein@datasync.com or (228) 872-3457.

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