The port authority was yesterday quick to play down claims that the U.S Sixth Fleet is staying away from Palma because of lax security measures. This year just two United States navy ships have visited Palma, but neither have been aircraft carriers with the size of crews which inject substantial amounts of money into the local economy. In the wake of the attack on the USS Cole in Yeman in 2000 and September 11, the United States has stepped up security measures around all its military interests and substantially tightened security around its ships in overseas ports. President of the Balearic Port Authority, Francesc Triay, announcing record breaking ferry and cruise ship passengers figures yesterday, was side tracked by questions over claims that the U.S. Sixth Fleet is concerned about security in Palma. Triay said that security measures in all of the Balearics' ports for the Sixth Fleet “are the same as across Spain in the wake of September 11, he also stressed that port security is not only the responsibility of the port authority but also a matter for the state security forces. Triay said that over the past year, a number of navy vessels from other NATO-member countries have come to Palma and there have been no problems. But Palma's relationship with the Sixth Fleet has been somewhat tense since the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS George Washington visited the island two years ago. A Balearic government-backed protest by Greenpeace in the Bay of Palma caused a rift between local and US authorities, only made worse by Balearic President Antich and other govermnent members participating in a protest march through Palma demanding that the carrier leave Balearic waters and making it quite clear it was not welcome. Barcelona, Tarragone, Cadiz and Cartagena have all welcomed the Sixth Fleet with open arms and have complied with all the United States navy's security requirements. A number of local businesses have admitted that the apparent reluctance of the Sixth Fleet to return to Palma has cost them money. Hotels, bars, restaurants, shops, clubs, car rental companies have all noticed the difference, caring for the needs of an aircraft carrier with a crew of around 5.000 personnel is big business.

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