Heightened security, especially during the holiday season, has become a way of life in New Jersey and across the entire region, especially at airports, train stations and at entrances to bridges and tunnels.

But what about ferry boats?

A recent review of the Transportation Sector by the state Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness found ferries remain susceptible to terrorist attacks.

“Ferry security is a big concern because unlike airports the ferry terminal and the ferries themselves don’t necessarily have identification requirements. Those who are permitted onboard with baggage don’t undergo similar physical screening procedures as they would at airports,” said state Homeland Security Director Chris Rodriguez.

He acknowledged passenger flow patterns at ferry terminals make it difficult to conduct checks.

“There isn’t extensive security that’s done. There is a lot of observation,” he said

But during the holiday season, he said, ferry security is ramped up.

“This would include physical patrols by the State Police, plain clothes patrols on the ferries, and we’re also training and briefing the owners and operators of these ferries on what the signs of terrorism or suspicious activity might be,” he said

Rodriguez says getting help from the public is essential.

“The public is often the first line of defense in this terrorist threat environment that we are now operating in,” he said.

“We have also posted posters and handouts at ferry terminals and the ferries themselves on reporting suspicious activity. Essentially: See something, say something.”

According to state data, the interstate ferry system between New Jersey and New York is one of the busiest in the United States. About 8.5 million passengers traveled between the two states by ferry in 2014. Last year, the Cape May-Lewes Ferry, the only ferry system in New Jersey that carries vehicles, transported 266,149 vehicles and 782,241 passengers.

Pat Smith, a spokesman for NY Waterway, said passenger safety is their top concern.

“We’re dealing with New Jersey authorities and federal authorities on security and there are periodic security checks by state, federal and local security officials,” he said

When asked what security measures were being taken besides having uniformed police in terminals and on some ferries themselves, Smith wouldn’t elaborate.

“Those are the kinds of issues you don’t discuss, your security measures. I’m just telling you there is a very aggressive security program,” he said

“The ferry is as safe or safer than any mode of mass transportation," he added. "NY Waterway, which is 30 years old this week, has carried more than 250 million passengers and has never had a serious injury to a passenger.”

Contact reporter David Matthau at David.Matthau@townsquaremedia.com.

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