Improve security at U.S., foreign ports
A federal study has found serious lapses in security at foreign and American sea ports.
CONTROVERSY about the proposal for a Dubai company to manage American sea ports finally focused public attention on the country's vulnerability to terrorism by sea. The government has acted relatively quickly to tighten security at airports but has been sluggish in trying to provide safety by sea. It's time to speed up the process of protecting ports.
The Bush administration logically looked abroad in assuring that U.S.-bound cargo not contain explosives or other dangerous material to be used by terrorists. However, a Homeland Security Department study obtained by the Associated Press found serious lapses at foreign and American ports, aboard ships and on trucks and trains "that would enable unmanifested materials or weapons of mass destruction to be introduced into the supply chain."
Hawaii receives 90 percent of its goods by ship, most of it routed through West Coast ports. However, only 4 percent to 5 percent of the containers are inspected by Coast Guard or Customs officials, so much of the security system relies upon checks at foreign ports.
A ship's captain is required to submit an electronic list of a container's contents at least 24 hours before it is loaded for shipment to America. U.S. authorities look at the list to decide which cargo to inspect.
But the captain's list is based on information provided by the original shipper, who might not want to disclose the true contents for competitive reasons or because of concerns about theft. In Brazil, truck drivers are allowed to take cargo containers home overnight and park along public streets, where they might be loaded with bombs or other weapons before being taken to the port.
Once they arrive at an American port, the cargo might be picked up by someone with a criminal record or terrorist ties. In 2002, Congress required that maritime workers be issued identity cards holding a person's iris image or fingerprint, but the requirement has yet to be implemented.
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