Captain’s Corner: Container Security

U.S. Coast Guard photo of CAPT Tom Allan taken by Petty Officer 2nd Class Timothy TamargoThis month’s Captain’s Corner is brought to you by LCDR Stephen West, Marine Safety Detachment Supervisor in Port Canaveral. Stephen reported to us this year from our Congressional Affairs staff in D.C. this summer and is already doing an outstanding job. Thanks to all who have made Stephen welcome in Canaveral and who are working with him as the port continues to grow and expand. I hope everyone enjoys November and is able to celebrate Veteran’s Day in a way that recognizes the many outstanding Veterans who have served our country and now live and work in our community. See you in the Port!
– CAPT Tom Allan

Container Security

By LCDR Stephen West, Marine Safety Detachment Supervisor, Port Canaveral

Almost 90 percent of the world’s manufactured goods move by container and 40 percent of that is moved by ship. Last year, the U.S. received over 11 million twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs) from 742 foreign ports. For perspective, the Port of Jacksonville received just under a million of those TEUs and the Port of Canaveral took in about 100. With the announcement of a 35-year lease agreement with Gulftainer (GT), one of the world’s largest privately owned port management and logistics companies, the Canaveral Port Authority plans to increase container volume dramatically starting in June of 2015. Once fully operational, GT terminal anticipates handling up to 700,000 TEUs a year, or roughly five container ships a week. Imported containers represent an important component of our economy, providing consumers with an enormous array of choices; however, they also pose challenges for law enforcement officials who are tasked with ensuring our safety and security.

To balance the need to participate in the global economy and the security concerns associated with the millions of cargo containers entering U.S. ports every year, Customs and Boarder Protection (CBP) carries out a series of programs designed to extend our zone of security outward so that American borders are the last line of defense. The first step is identifying “high-risk” containers. Shipping companies are required to provide manifest data for all containers destined for the U.S. Every manifest is transmitted to the U.S. National Targeting Center where automated tools, based on advanced information from U.S. intelligence sources, are used to identify “high-risk” cargo that pose a potential risk. A key piece in identifying these “high-risk” containers is CBP’s direct coordination with foreign authorities in 58 of the largest ports in the world, representing 80 percent of all maritime containerized cargo imported into the U.S.

Once identified, CBP uses large scale X-ray and gamma ray machines, radiation detection devices, and physical inspection techniques to screen containers on foreign soil, as early in the supply chain as possible. Through the use of technology, this screening can be done rapidly and without slowing down the movement of trade. CBP currently uses risk-based analysis and intelligence to pre-screen, assess, and examine 100 percent of suspicious containers.

An additional layer to CBP’s enforcement strategy is a voluntary supply chain security program called Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism (C-TPAT). Companies who achieve C-TPAT certification must allow CBP to audit their supply chains and have a documented process for determining and alleviating risk throughout their international system. Companies accepted into C-TPAT are considered low-risk and are, therefore, less likely to be examined, allowing CBP officials to focus more time and attention on higher risk companies. Today, more than 10,000 certified partners participate in the program, accounting for over 50 percent (by value) of what is imported into the United States.

At home, one of CBP’s container security efforts includes radiation portal monitors (RPM). The Security and Accountability for Every Port Act of 2006 requires all containers entering the U.S., through the 22 ports with the greatest container volume, to be screened for radiation. The RPM program satisfies this mandate and is run by CBP and the Domestic Nuclear Detection Office (DNDO). The DNDO conducts research, development and evaluations of nuclear and radiological detection technologies. It is responsible for acquiring the technology systems in support of DHS operational components such as CBP, Coast Guard, and the Transportation Security Administration. According to the DNDO, there are currently 444 RPMs screening 99 percent of inbound containerized cargo at seaports; the other 1 percent of incoming cargo enters the U.S. at low-volume seaports.

Although Custom officials examine 100 percent of suspicious containers bound for the U.S., such large numbers make physically inspecting each container impossible without a significant negative economic impact. Not including those containers screened by RPMs, a smaller percentage of containers, those deemed “high threat,” are physically inspected using non-intrusive techniques to detect contraband hidden within the cargo. The U.S. Coast Guard and CBP are aggressively pursuing and testing technologies that would allow ports to physically scan more containers without disrupting the essential flow of commerce. In the meantime, most experts agree that a risk-based approach based on multiple intelligence sources is the preferred option in ensuring cargo security.

Featured image by Coast Guard News on Flickr, CC license