Dubai company is least of port worries
The Bush administration has come under criticism for approval of a deal for a Dubai company to operate six U.S. sea ports.
FERVOR about national security has crossed party lines over a deal that would hand over management of six American sea ports to a company owned by the United Arab Emirates. Politicians would serve security interests better by focusing on U.S. vulnerability due to the infrequency of cargo inspections conducted by government agencies, a function in which the Dubai-based company will not engage.
Although the Bush administration's review of the Dubai company could have been more thorough, the reaction from Democrats and some Republicans amounts to terrorism-inspired jingoism. Foreign management of U.S. ports has become part of the global economy. American ports are operated by companies based in China, Singapore, Japan, Taiwan and Europe. (Honolulu Harbor is operated directly by the state Harbors Division.)
In reality, the ports at New York, Baltimore and four others are now operated by a British-owned company, and the same mostly American workers and facility security plans will be passed on to Dubai Ports World if the deal goes through, according to Michael Seymour, who now runs the operation.
Security problems arise from the small percentage of containers that are inspected by U.S. Coast Guard and Customs officials. The congressional Government Accountability Office concluded in a 20-month review last year that only one-third of 1 percent of containers destined for the United States from foreign ports inspected before they arrive in America.
Once they arrive, only 4 percent or 5 percent are inspected before being picked up at the ports for transportation to their inland destinations. No standard exists for sealing of containers or for identifying thousands of truck drivers who pick them up at ports.
The company that operates the U.S. port terminal is less important than what arrives at the port and passes through the U.S. inspection process. "Who owns the management contract ranks near the very bottom" of the security problems, says Stephen E. Flynn, a retired Coast Guard commander who is an expert on port security at the Council on Foreign Relations.
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