TrendIncreasing emphasis on cargo container security

Published 28 November 2005

Last year more than 6,000 ships made nearly 57,000 calls on American ports. These ships carried the bulk of the approximately 800 million tons of goods which came into the United States, including more than 9 million containers and 175 billion gallons of oil and other fuels. Any one of the more than 9 million containers which enter the United States each year has the potential to be what Senator Susan Collins (R-Maine) calls “the Trojan horse of the 21st century.” A container usually contains consumer goods like TV sets, sneakers, or toys. It could also contain terrorists, biological agents, or nuclear weapons. Criminals have perfected the use of cargo containers to smuggle narcotics, firearms, and people into the United States. Protecting the nation against threats carried inside cargo containers is not easy, as these containers come from any one of a thousand ports overseas, with varying levels of security and reliability. Even containers coming from secure ports could be intercepted or tampered with along the way.

A container-borne threat may do serious damage to the country even if the damage is inflicted only on the port itself. The very high cost of a terrorist attack on port facilities was illustrated lately by two non-terrorist events: The West Coast dock strike in the fall of 2002 cost the U.S. economy an estimated $1 billion for each of the ten days it lasted. More recently, Hurricane Katrina brought the Port of New Orleans and several other Gulf Coast ports to a standstill. Last year those ports handled $49 billion in goods, 60 percent of U.S. grain exports, and 26 percent of the nation’s natural gas supply and crude oil. Senator Collins and Senator Patty Murray (D-Wash.) are cosponsoring the GreenLane Maritime Cargo Security Act to address cargo security issues.

-read more on the proposed act in this article