DHS names six ports to kick-start the Secure Freight Initiative

Published 11 December 2006

Port Qasim, Puerto Cortes, and Port Salalah among the first to install radiation detection equipment; DHS allocates $60 million to buy the equipment; Dubai Ports once again in the news, but nobody has yet to complain; only 7 percent of outgoing cargo to be inspected

As part of the grand compromise worked out in this year’s port security bill, the federal government agreed to install radiation port detectors at six foreign ports. This was a compromise because critics, mainly from the Democratic side of the aisle, had insisted that 100 percent of foreign cargo be screened at their point of origin, while DHS in turn insisted that the costs would be too high and that the technology was still immature. The six ports, it was decided, would act as a testing grounds. Those ports have now been named, and so have the companies that will assist in the roll-out.

Under the Secure Freight Initiative, ports in Pakistan, Honduras, the United Kingdom, Oman, Singapore, and Korea, will all install the radiation detectors (as well as X-ray machines hooked up to U.S. authorities via streaming video), although only 7 percent of US-bound cargo at the ports will be screened initially. “American customs officials will satisfy themselves about the safety of a container before that container is allowed to continue to the United States of America,” DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff said. “In the end the ‘go, no-go’ decision rests with our guys.”

Most interestingly, however, is that three of the ports are operated by DP World, best known as the UAE-based Dubai Ports that caused so much consternation earlier this year when it bought England-based P&O. Many believed that a foreign owned company —especially one from the Middle East — might compromise American security, and so DP World agreed to sell off its American operations. Now that same company will manage a near-majority of the ports involved in the new radiation cargo screening initiative. According to one source quoted by CNN, he “wouldn’t argue with the term ironic” to describe the situation in which “the same country deemed a security risk back in February is the same country picked to help carry [the screening] out.”

The ports involved in the initiative include Port Qasim in Pakistan, Southampton in Britain and the Gamman terminal at Port Busan in South Korea, as well as Puerto Cortes in Honduras, Port Salalah in Oman and the port of Singapore. All six ports are expected to go online during the course of 2007, with Port Qasim and Puerto Cortes doing so as early as February. DHS will allocate nearly $30 million to fund the radiography equipment and the DOE’s National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) will contribute $30 million to fund the installation of radiation portal monitors.

-read more in this CNN report