Fears of N-Bomb Prompt Call for Port Security Changes

December 20, 2006 1:25pm CST
A special panel concluded on Monday the US needs better protection at its ports, to ensure all cargo is inspected and avoid the smuggling of terrorist-related materials and devices such as an atomic bomb. Any of the millions of shipping containers that arrive in U.S. ports each year could be used to conceal weapons such as a nuclear bomb, officials fear. The panel was set up in March after Dubai Ports World, owned by the United Arab Emirates, caused an uproar when it bought assets at six US ports as part of its $6.8 billion purchase of British port operator P&O in February. Federal funding to safeguard the region's ports was boosted this fall to $25.7 million, from $6.6 million. That money is to protect against attacks by land or sea, not for cargo screening or container inspections, reports AP. "The federal government must realize the vulnerabilities that our ports face and work with us to identify new ways to reduce risks," said Anthony Coscia, chairman of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, who set up the panel. New Jersey Governor Jon Corzine, whose state has repeatedly called for more federal support for its port security, said the ports of New York and New Jersey bring in some $100 billion worth of goods each year. "It is more than these containers, it is that whole supply chain that exposes our society, and we need to make sure that we are doing everything that is possible," Corzine said. The group urged the creation of a national director of port and cargo security, to be appointed by President George W Bush and to report to Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff. The Bush administration earlier this month announced a $60-million program to scan US-bound cargo for nuclear and radiological material at ports in Britain, Honduras, Oman, Pakistan, Singapore and South Korea. However, experts showed the futility of such an enterprise, because material as common as aluminum foil could shield the uranium from devices meant to detect radioactivity. The United States has about 361 commercial seaports. One of the conclusions is shippers should also pay a security fee that would be divided among the U.S. ports so they could install more security. "There's no question that the security issues and the enemies that we face are very sophisticated," said Richard Canas, director of the state Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness, who appeared with Corzine. "Attacking our ports, frankly, means attacking our nation's economy." "What we're trying to do is secure the cargo before it arrives to our ports," Canas said. The department plans to maintain a balance between proper screening, which starts when U.S-bound cargo is loaded overseas, and ensuring that commerce is not strangled, spokesman Jarrod Agen said. It is much like the screening of air passengers and cargo. NY / NJ Port Authority task force recommendations: * The adoption of federal legislation sanctioning minimum mandatory cargo security standards that use innovative technology and business practices to monitor every cargo shipment. * The presidential appointment of a National Port and Cargo Security Director, reporting to the Director of Homeland Security, who has ultimate responsibility and accountability for coordinating port and cargo security activities throughout the various federal agencies as well as the international community. * Establishment of a nationwide “Port Security User Fee,” not later than January 1, 2008, dedicated exclusively to U.S. ports based on size, cargo volume and risk. This fee would be used to offset capital and operating costs incurred by port facility owners/operators associated with security installations and operations. * Establish response and recovery plans that are unique to the regional environment of each U.S. port, allowing individual ports to return to “normal business” as efficiently as possible after a disaster. Mandate and conduct annual exercises that test the quality of each port’s response and recovery plans. * Adopt federal legislation that requires every regulated maritime facility and Coast Guard Captain of the Port to implement a comprehensive risk-management plan that will form the basis for resource allocation decision making, similar to the protocols for other state, urban area and mass transit funding.
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