Puerto Cortes sees net gains from Megaports security
The Port of Puerto Cortes' participation in the U.S. Megaports Initiative security program has brought the port and Honduras unexpected financial gains and improved overall operating efficiencies, the port's general manager said.
Edwin Araque's assessment of the program's impacts belies complaints heard from most port directors and port users, who routinely complain that post-9/11 security requirements have disproportionately increased operating costs and also slowed cargo flows with time-consuming inspections.
Araque, speaking through translators Tuesday on a panel at the Miami Conference on the Caribbean organized by the Caribbean-Central American Association, said the image scans conducted on 100 percent of the containers moving through Puerto Cortes have revealed cargo misdeclarations in the process of looking for weapons of mass destruction and other security threats. Subsequently, customs authorities have recovered duties that exceed the security costs.
Puerto Cortes is one of six foreign ports selected by the U.S. Department of Energy's National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) for the Megaports Initiative. Working in conjunction with the Department of Homeland Security, NNSA scans all inbound and outbound containers with radiation detection equipment and imaging technology that allows operators to see inside a container without opening it for a full physical inspection. The program also includes officers from U.S. Customs and Border Protection to help check cargo before it is shipped to the United States. The ports were selected last December and the security equipment has been operations in Puerto Cortes since April.
The U.S. paid for the equipment and the additional personnel from CBP, saving the initial outlay for equipment that countries would encounter. Araque said Puerto Cortes also imposes security fees on containers that average about $110 per container, round trip.
All told, however, he said the unexpected increases in duty payments after discovering cargo misdeclarations, in which shippers claim a container holds something with lower duty charges than the actual products inside. The increased revenues would be enough to offset the new security costs, he said.
He added that working with U.S. officials, local inspectors have been able to become highly adept at scanning cargo. The average time for checking a container is down to 40 seconds, he noted.
Those movements, coupled with improved supply chain communications practices related to security, have allowed authorities to clear up confusion quickly when there is a problem. For example, he said a shipment of scrap metal set off radiation detection equipment, but authorities were able to clear the cargo in a short time because of the improved security programs in place with shippers.
In addition, the Megaports Initiative was instrumental in the implementation of a new labor agreement in Puerto Cortes in which stevedores are paid on throughput, rather than using a traditional hourly wage. That has further increased the speed on container movements through the port.
'They have turned security into a vehicle' to improve port operations, said fellow panelist Jose Concepcion of Miami-based Seaboard Marine.
But the new scrutiny of cargo has come with a dark downside, as well.
Panel moderator Jose Perez-Jones, an executive with Seaboard, relayed that Araque consented to allow him to tell the audience that Araque has received death threats since security increased and the program started uncovering the cargo misdeclarations. ' Jim Dow