NIT League, NCBFAA engage Senate on cargo security measures
U.S. business groups are turning their attention to the Senate to combat legislative attempts to impose requirements for wholesale X-ray style screening and sealing of inbound ocean containers and imaging of cargo shipments on passenger aircraft.
The National Industrial Transportation League on Tuesday sent a letter to all senators explaining that such security measures, rapidly phased in over a three-to-five year period, would slow down trade because automated systems have not been perfected that can handle millions of shipments per year.
Repeating arguments made by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Retail Industry Leaders Association to the House, NIT League Executive Vice President Peter Gatti wrote that Congress should allow the Department of Homeland Security to complete mandated pilot programs for 100 percent screening at seven foreign ports before rushing to implement a rule covering all trade lanes.
'Our concern is that even if the employment of such technology is feasible, reliance on such an approach would provide a 'false sense' of security and would result in legitimately safe cargo being delayed,' the NIT League said.
H.R. 1, which passed the House without debate earlier this month, also includes a requirement that ocean containers have a security seal and that the Department of Homeland Security develop standards for seals capable of tracking and detecting any box breaches once the technology is refined.
The department has not identified any electronic container security devices it considers reliable for detecting door tampering and the technology for detecting breaches through any wall of the container is considered at least three to five years away.
The NIT League said that in the absence of seals that can remotely communicate tamper incidents a mandate for seals 'could potentially decrease security by requiring containers to sit idle for extended periods of time until personnel can verify the proper application and operation of the seal. The delays in freight deliveries that would likely result from these requirements would have serious adverse impacts on companies' 'just-in-time' supply chains and, in turn, the U.S. economy.'
The NIT League said non-intrusive scanning technology for all types of air cargo pallets does not exist and could result in delays and damage to delicate shipments if airlines are forced to use existing systems.
Physical inspections are not an option because 'air freight is often shrink-wrapped onto pallets before it is delivered to the freight forwarder or airline in order to prevent loss and damage. Thus, it would not be practical to unwrap and inspect each shipment,' the trade association explained.
'Also, commercial air cargo does not share the same characteristics of passenger baggage. There are significantly greater challenges in utilizing non-intrusive technology to scan commercial freight, which is commonly palletized or placed into large size containers and therefore cannot be as easily scanned as smaller sized baggage. While Section 406 is well intentioned, its application would cause significant delays to air cargo at a cost of millions of dollars, without any assurances that the new inspection requirements would significantly increase security.'
The National Customs Brokers and Forwarders Association of America issued a similar statement reiterating its opposition to the air cargo and ocean screening provisions in the House bill to adopt the homeland security recommendations of the Sept. 11 Commission.
It said that scanning all air cargo on passenger flights would harm the industry because shippers would opt for other modes of less costly transport if delays took away air's speed advantage. It urged use of risk-based inspections.
As for the proposed container inspection system, the NCBFAA said that allowing the Secure Freight pilot program to be completed would allow DHS to correct any deficiencies before rolling it out worldwide.