Tight security at America's Cup

29th June 2007, Comments 0 comments

29 June 2007, VALENCIA (AP) - Visitors numbering 70,000 some days and the moored rows of sleek superyachts owned by the superrich could make sailing's highest-profile regatta, the America's Cup, a plumb target for terrorists.

29 June 2007

VALENCIA (AP) - Visitors numbering 70,000 some days and the moored rows of sleek superyachts owned by the superrich could make sailing's highest-profile regatta, the America's Cup, a plumb target for terrorists.

More than 2,000 people, including scuba divers groping along the dark and muddy bottom and experts using sonar, infrared sensors, radio jammers and cameras, are determined to prevent just that.

Port America's Cup, where Switzerland's Alinghi is battling Emirates Team New Zealand over the oldest trophy in international sport, might be described as Fortress America's Cup.

"We have been working for three years for the worst case scenarios, so we think we are prepared," Jose Vincente Herrara Arrando said.

Every waterway into the port has jammers to disrupt remote control signals, due to the 1979 bombing death of Britain's Lord Mountbatten. Queen Elizabeth's cousin was aboard his yacht off Ireland, when IRA activists blew him up with a remote-controlled toy boat loaded with explosives, Herrara Arrando said.

Security was stepped up at the 32nd America's Cup after Spain's Basque separatist group ETA called off a 15-month cease-fire on June 5, said Herrara Arrando. ETA has killed more than 800 people since 1968 in its campaign for a separate Basque state.

Juan Manuel Alvarez Juarez, of a Spanish Civil Guard diving unit that patrols the port, said ETA was not the only threat, since Islamic terror groups could also be drawn to the high-profile cup.

"We have to try to think like the terrorists," he said.

At the entry gate, visitors wait in line to send their bags through a scanner, and then pass through a metal detector themselves, like at an airport. Cars are also stopped, and then drive over special detectors designed to find any explosives hidden under the vehicle.

Apart from the fences surrounding the vast base and scores of police cars and officers, most security is barely noticeable, such as the 244 surveillance cameras keeping a Big Brother-like eye on things.

Most, about 200, are along perimeter fences, which also have infrared and microwave sensors to detect efforts to climb over, something Herrara Arrando said has happened only once.

The heart of the security is an upper floor of an old stone building in the port, where about 30 people, representing the police, fire, the civil guard, the military and organizers, are gathered to coordinate efforts.

In an adjacent room, 18 widescreen monitors cover a wall, switching between remote cameras and other data. If an alarm is triggered at the fence, a remote camera kicks in to show what happened and prevent false alarms.

"It could be a piece of paper, or even a seagull," Herrara Arrando explained.

The security services also use "intelligent video," which reacts to any change _ such as an abandoned bag _ in a defined image area.

Another screen shows the license plate number of every vehicle entering the park, compares it to a database, and sounds an alert if, for example, the car is stolen.

Yet one more screen has images from sonar _ underwater radar _ placed under the waterway leading into the port. Herrara Arrando said sonar could help detect, for example, a miniature submarine or unauthorized diver.

He said security wanted to install underwater cameras at the port entry, but the America's Cup teams - extremely secretive about their boats' underwater details - flatly refused.

Despite all the high technology, security work often has to be hands on, particularly for the divers of the Civil Guard's GEAS unit, since they can't see anything in the darkness of seven to 12 meters (22-40 feet) of water in the port.

"They feel along the mud," said their commander, Juarez.

As soon as the divers back-flipped off their orange, eight-meter (26-foot)-long inflatable boat, it was as hard to see their security contribution as most of the other efforts. But every day, they swim along the bottom under superyachts and base docks, looking for threats.

So far, Juarez said, they have found no bombs, although a year ago the divers found two unexploded torpedoes from the 1936-39 Spanish civil war, which were then destroyed.

Back at the dock, a small pile of the divers' recovered bounty included mobile phones, walkie-talkies, children's toy cars, an encrusted bathroom scale, a calculator and part of an anchor.

Juarez said even a small bomb in the water could do much more damage than one on land because it would cause a huge crest of water that would destroy moored yachts and damage the bases.

But Herrara Arrando, the head of security, said, so far, things have gone well, with only about 30 incidents, most minor, despite more than five million visitors to the park in the past three years.

[Copyright AP 2007]

Subject: Spanish news

0 Comments To This Article