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American Shipper

Port officials say U.S. cargo security reform needed

Port officials say U.S. cargo security reform needed

   Eight years after the 9/11 terror attacks, the United States still does not have the right programs in place to stop terrorists from attacking critical facilities in a commercial port or smuggling a weapon across the waterfront for use against major inland targets, the heads of security at two of the nation's largest ports said Friday.

   The mandate to scan all ocean containers at foreign ports prior to departure for the United States starting in 2012 is procedurally flawed, said Bethann Rooney, manager of port security at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, and Cosmo Peronne, her counterpart at the Port of Long Beach. They claim there are no clear protocols for dealing with a bomb or weapon of mass destruction detected in cargo, the focus on containerized cargo overshadows other potential threats, and existing programs have too many loopholes.

   Both spoke at a discussion hosted by the Center for National Policy, a Washington-based think tank that leans Democratic.

   New York and New Jersey port officials favor having automated cargo inspections conducted overseas to prevent any threats from reaching U.S. shores, but want the imaging and radiation detection to be embedded in the normal business process of the ports, Rooney said.

   'But the way that happens now is essentially as an afterthought, as a secondary movement,' instead of having detection machines at every inbound gate, she told AmericanShipper.com after the event.

   'So you're creating a burden to do the 100 percent of U.S.-bound cargo where the overseas terminals have to handle those boxes a second or third time,' and sort out U.S. cargo from that headed to other countries. 'And ultimately that costs us (U.S. companies) more money.'

   Radiation detection monitors integrated into the spreader bars of cranes that lift containers on and off ships could meet the dual goals of efficiency and security, but the technology is not proven yet.

   A scan-all approach 'undermines the very premise of a good security program' because it causes delays for the inspection process, giving criminal and terrorist elements opportunity to tamper with containers at rest, Peronne said.

   Under the Container Security Initiative, U.S. Customs and Border Protection can request that authorities at 50 foreign ports inspect a small percentage of containers that raise red flags, but it conducts the vast majority of its targeted inspections in U.S. ports.

   And radiation detection doesn't take place until a container goes through the outbound truck gates. That means a container that might have a terrorist weapon inside could be stored on the dock for five to seven days before departure, posing a threat to the port and the surrounding community, Rooney emphasized.

   Meanwhile, other countries are threatening to institute reciprocal security requirements for U.S. ports to scan export cargo or else deny it entry.

   'That would shut down the Port of Long Beach,' Peronne said.

   The two port directors also urged the Obama administration to develop programs to address security issues associated with bulk and other non-container type cargoes.

   'We are equally concerned that our focus is almost exclusively containers. When we look at the trends and weapons of choice around the world, there are less consequential, but more probable threats that could occur' with other cargoes 'that we're not paying attention to whatsoever,' Rooney told a small audience of lobbyists and congressional staff personnel.

   Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano has expressed concerns about the technical, political and financial ability of foreign ports to implement the scan-all mandate, and has suggested that Congress extend the deadline or that she may use her authority to opt out of the requirements until security processes and technology are developed that don't disrupt normal port operations.

   The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey also doesn't have a lot of confidence in the Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism, Rooney said, without identifying the program by name.

   'We are particularly concerned about a system that is built on trust with minimal verification of that trustworthy relationship,' she said.

   C-TPAT is a voluntary program for importers that agree to follow minimum supply chain security standards, and require suppliers and transportation service providers to follow their approved security plans, in exchange for a reduced likelihood of CBP inspections and front-of-the-line processing for inspections when possible, among other stated benefits. About 9,000 companies participate in the program. The idea is create a universe of known, trusted shippers that do not need to have their cargo scrutinized on a regular basis so that border officers can devote their attention to unknown and high-risk shipments.

   Port authority officials have previously testified that the standards — such as certifying that a container is free of false compartments, secure packing and sealing procedures, monitoring for breaches in transit — should apply to all shippers across the board and that C-TPAT benefits only be bestowed on an elite cadre of companies that are willing to adopt much more stringent cargo security controls.

   C-TPAT's problem is that trade facilitation benefits are extended based on verification of a single supply chain when a company may ship from dozens or hundreds of locations around the world, depending on its size, Rooney said in a brief interview following her remarks.

   CBP typically works out with the importer in advance which trade lane, or overseas shipping location, it plans to assess in person.

   'If you're a questionable actor, you're going to invest your time and money in that one supply chain that they are verifying' but the entire company will get the same risk score reduction in the agency's automated targeting system no matter where it is shipping from, she said.

   CBP is now on schedule to revalidate companies every three years, using a different supply chain.

   Rooney also said the Port Security Caucus recently delivered research and development wish list to the Department of Homeland Security's Science and Technology Directorate.

   One of the items sought by the ports group is a blast-proof, air-tight bunker or blanket under which a container that has received a positive hit for an explosive device or mass destruction weapon can be placed to render the cargo safe until the weapon can be deactivated.

   Peronne said that DHS procedures currently call for a 'hot cargo' to be trucked 25 miles through the city of Long Beach to a facility where specialists can conduct a more thorough inspection. Rooney said she has heard secondhand that DHS has some plans to place a dangerous container on a barge and move it by water past population centers in New York out to sea.

   The protective devices are necessary to conduct the inspection on-site so as not to jeopardize the surrounding population, they said.

   The ports group also wants DHS to study the feasibility of:

   ' Using unmanned aerial vehicles for port surveillance.

   ' Technologies for small boat 'friend-or-foe' identification.

   ' Computer modeling for evacuation in the event of an attack or weapon detection in a port.

   ' Explosive detection devices for roll-on/roll-off cargo.

   ' Non-lethal small boat interception devices such as netting, wires or acoustic disabling technology that could prevent a suicide bombing of a vessel or waterfront facility such as an oil refinery.

   The Port Security Caucus is an informal advocacy group created 18 months ago by ports with the highest risk or unique security requirements. In addition to the ports of New York-New Jersey and Long Beach, it includes Los Angeles, Oakland-San Francisco, Houston-Galveston, Philadelphia and the Delaware Bay, Seattle, Tacoma, Boston (liquefied natural gas port), Charleston (location of Project Seahawk joint maritime security task force), Norfolk (major naval port) and Miami (major cruise port). ' Eric Kulisch

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