Public ports pay the lion’s share for security. “But it’s imperative that the federal government uphold its end of the bargain to ensure that neither security concerns nor infrastructure constraints compromise the ability of US ports to meet consumer demands in the future,” urged Bernard Groseclose, president and CEO of the South Carolina State Ports Authority and chairman of the board of the American Association of Port Authorities (AAPA).

Terminal operators are not responsible for securing US ports. Cargo arriving in the US is assessed for risk and screened accordingly by the US Coast Guard, the Transportation Security Administration, Customs and Border Protection, the FBI and local law enforcement. In many cases, the cargo is screened at foreign ports before being loaded on ships destined for the US.

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Terminal operators are, however, required to submit for approval a comprehensive facility security plan, under US Coast Guard regulations. “Subsequent to initial submission, the Coast Guard conducts regular audits as well as annual exercises,” Tay Yoshitani, senior policy adviser to the National Association of Waterfront Employers told Congress in hearings on the DP World matter. “Terminal operators are well aware that failure to comply with this approved plan may be cause for closure of the facility. Needless to say, terminal operators take these plans, audits and exercises very seriously.”

But not all seaports have the same degree of security, since each has been allotted varying amounts of money from the federal government and has limited funds to purchase expensive security systems. Some have just enough to install high beam lighting, provide identity badges and construct more secure fencing. Others can afford to employ more sophisticated systems such as x-ray equipment.

“In all of these discussions, what has frightened me most is how we have publicised that only 5% of the containers are being examined and where our holes are,” said Marjorie Shapiro, CEO and president of Baltimore-based Samuel Shapiro & Company, a freight-forwarding and customs brokerage concern.

With today’s cargo volume level expected to at least double by 2020, ports are already stretched to maintain adequate port infrastructure. To stay competitive, harbour and channel dredging is crucial, as is installing larger and faster cranes to accommodate the larger post-Panamax steamships that are coming on line. Some seaports are also revamping their footprints to provide more real estate for cargo containers – all of which takes large amounts of money and competes with security for funds.

Many officials say that the proposed federal government budget released by President Bush in early February does not adequately address all of these needs. The budget proposal recommends combining the security infrastructure needs of seaports with those of trains, trucks, buses and other public transit into a new, consolidated targeted infrastructure protection programme.

But Kurt Nagle, AAPA president and CEO, said: “The federal share of the seaport facility security funding partnership needs to be increased, not reprogrammed and diluted.”

Karen E Thuermer