Chaff Launch

Monday, August 22, 2005

Security of Our Ports (and a Little More)

An interview with the Director of Security for the Virginia Port Authority and formerly "the No. 2 Coast Guard official in New York in 2002," found here says much about the post-9/11 spirit in New York and the challenges being addressed thereafter:
Q: Were there any terrorist scares that you dealt with in your time in New York?

A: We had the first detection of radiation aboard a container ship, the Palermo Senator, that turned out to be ceramics. We were using new equipment, and we were alerted to levels that we hadn't seen before. We had to track back through the cargo and determine who loaded the containers.
photo - Container ship
Q: What did you learn from that?

A: Cases like that help you learn, and that rolls into your understanding next time. It also opened my eyes to just-in-time delivery and the concept of a ship as a moving warehouse. We had the ship detained for 96 hours. And the impact of detaining one 2,700-container ship was permeating throughout the nation. It seriously impacted assembly lines and parts and supplies of Ford Motor and other companies that depended on the containers. So we have to balance the economics against security.
Unlike, say, the seemingly easily frightened City Council of Long Beach, California, which is considering rejecting an LNG site. According to this, there is a "battle" brewing because of of "potential terrorist and safety threats" -
But the sides are gearing up for a battle that may only be inflamed by a city report released late Friday detailing the project's potential terrorist and safety threats.

The report that City Hall sent to the California Energy Commission described the potential for "massive damage' downtown and in neighborhoods if an incident occurs at the proposed LNG site. It also detailed an alarming range of potential terrorist threats including hijacked LNG vessels, a small boat attack, a small aircraft attack and underwater diver or mine attacks.

Those concerns have caused opponents in recent months to urge council opposition to the project proposed by Sound Energy Solutions, a subsidiary of Mitsubishi Corp. and ConocoPhillips. SES officials maintain the complex would be safe and have urged the completion of an upcoming environmental review before any decision is made...At issue is a $450 million LNG receiving terminal on the port's Pier T. At the proposed terminal, ships would offload the supercooled methane gas, which would be reheated into natural gas for commercial and residential use.

SES officials have said the terminal would provide needed resources of the alternative fuel for the state and could provide Long Beach natural gas customers with cheaper rates. Opponents have challenged the company, claiming the risk of an incident outweighs any benefits the terminal could provide... But in a section on security response, city officials said the project poses numerous terrorist risks, including a hijacking of an LNG vessel.
Quick, before reading any further, think of all the bad things that could happen to any ship entering port. It could be ship full of furniture or cars or gasoline or passengers or whatever. The Long Beach report lists them all (except, perhaps, bering hit by a meteor) as a parade of horrors that could befall an LNG ship:
photo - LNG ship

"If the ship were to be hijacked, it could be navigated into a highly populated zone in the city such as the Queen Mary complex and crashed into either the Carnival Cruise ship or the Queen Mary itself, causing an explosion or release of gas,' the report stated.

City officials also cautioned that a small boat with explosives could be docked next to the terminal and that rocket-propelled grenades could be launched from a nearby ship.

The report also described the risk of a small aircraft attack as "very high' given the proximity to the takeoff route from Long Beach Airport. Prior to any ship arriving, Long Beach police would also insist on sending divers to search the piers and the hulls of the ships themselves.

Lastly, the report noted that any fire at the site could have devastating effects on the city.

"A major LNG incident at this proposed Port location could result in massive damage to both people and property over an area that could include downtown Long Beach as well as residential neighborhoods north of the Port,' the city wrote.

Adler said the list of risks is already known and can be mitigated. He downplayed the report, saying the port and airport face those same risks even without an LNG terminal.

"The city's trying to throw the kitchen sink at the state on this issue,' he said.
The probability of any of these occcurences actually happening is not provided, nor is the economic impact of playing NIMBY in an area that is energy starved. Instead, port security in Long Beach presumably does not involve balancing the various benefits and risks. It's either "on" or "off."
photo - Port of Long Beach

Long Beach is the second largest US container port. Norfolk, Va, is the sixth and Newport News is 23rd. (source)

An earlier post on LNG ship risk. And one on container security.

UPDATE: Added visual effects. Port of Long Beach website and POLB LNG info:
Sited to occupy 25 acres at the southeast end of Terminal Island, the terminal would provide about 10 percent of California’s needs for the cleaner-burning fuel. When cooled to minus 260 degrees, natural gas becomes a liquid. LNG would be shipped primarily from Pacific Rim countries to Long Beach, where the liquid would be gradually warmed until it is again a gas. The proposed terminal also would have a facility for distributing LNG in its liquid form.
Virginia Ports webste. Just for comparison:
photo- Port of Norfolk (Which, in case you hadn't figured it out, is an "aerial photo")

UPDATE: Excellent article from the LNG Observer:
The only economic method of transporting natural gas over long distances is to liquefy it near the source, transport it by ship in a liquefied state, and regasify it upon arrival.

While experience and evidence seem to show that LNG is no more dangerous than many other cargoes routinely carried by ships and that LNG carriers are some of the most robust commercial ships ever constructed, the perception is otherwise.

Thus, in our increasingly threat-conscious world, the security demands placed on the LNG industry generally exceed those placed on similar commercial activities...
Yes, they do and it doesn't help that excellent safety record gets short shrift. Lots of other good stuff - read it.

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