Thursday, September 13, 2007

Shippers' concerns over U.S. cargo security

Reported as Shippers braced for pain as US tightens security:
Jebel Ali, the world's eighth-busiest container port, is one of scores of ports worldwide participating in a five-year-old US initiative to examine suspicious cargo before it is loaded on to US-bound vessels. The shed is home to an x-ray machine that US Customs agents use to look inside containers for suspicious material.

The proposed legislation would, over time, require all cargo coming into the US to be scanned in the country from which it is shipped. Whether this is feasible for even the advanced scanning equipment at ports such as Jebel Ali is debatable. Since the US last year imported 18.4m, 20ft-equivalent units of containers and the busiest ports such as Shanghai handled millions of those, the US's already accident-prone system for handling imports could break under the strain.

"It just introduces another complexity into the physical process of moving goods," says Mark Page, research director at the London-based Drewry Shipping Consultants.

Lobbyists for the shipping industry and import-dependent sectors are disappointed by the proposed legislation because they believe the Safe Ports Act passed by Congress last year did most of what is currently practicable to reduce the terrorist risk from cargo imports.

That act followed the principle of previous cargo security legislation since the September 11.2001 terrorist attacks in the US by concentrating on screening goods that appeared suspicious because of their origin, anomalies in documentation or intelligence about possible plots. Containers are currently scanned at Jebel Ali if they meet those criteria.

One of the principal measures under the Safe Ports Act was a new Secure Freight Initiative, which installed US customs facilities at some of the most sensitive ports worldwide to step up screening of containers before their loading on to vessels.

However, ever since the 9/11 attacks, hawks on the subject have been pushing for the scanning of every container entering the US, to try to eliminate risk entirely.
Actually, it is not the "hawks" that push for every container to be inspected.

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