DHS requiring more container screening

Homeland Security Department officials intend to more than double the number of foreign ports where containers are prescreened before departing for the United States, one of several changes that will impact maritime security.

Although 19 megaports worldwide have agreed to inspect U.S.-bound containers before they are shipped, another 28 ports will take part in the Container Security Initiative (CSI) by this time next year to bring the total to 47 international ports.

"There is no question that CSI has been among the most effective initiatives we have undertaken to shore up security at our borders," said Douglas Browning, deputy commissioner for DHS' Bureau of Customs and Border Protection, at the Oct. 30 U.S. Maritime Security Expo in New York.

Although DHS officials have been implementing new security rules in several stages, they issued a final rule Oct. 22 that outlined what the shipping industry must do to comply with the crackdown on maritime security. The biggest change requires ships to carry an automatic identification system in U.S. waters.

The final regulations take effect July 1, 2004, but shippers are already scrambling because of the stiff penalty they could face for failing to comply.

The Coast Guard also will be able to shut down ports that do not construct a lighted, secured perimeter, make contingency plans for maritime security alerts and meet other requirements.

"With 95 percent of our nation's overseas cargo carried by ship, maritime security is critical to ensuring our nation's homeland and economic security," DHS Secretary Tom Ridge said. "These final rules...strengthen and bring consistency to both our nationwide maritime security program and our ability to deter homeland security threats."

In addition, under another maritime program, the Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism (C-TPAT), more than 4,000 companies have agreed to improve the security of their shipments and supply chain, Browning said. Participants get a fast lane for their products through U.S. land and sea borders.

DHS officials plan to expand C-TPAT to include foreign manufacturers and shippers next year, Browning said.

Richard Biter, deputy director of the Office of Intermodalism at the Transportation Department, said the federal government is still relying on the shipping industry to police itself in exchange for fast trade lines.

These additional security measures will not come cheaply. Michael Conners, a principal at Booz Allen Hamilton Inc. in McLean, Va., told the maritime conference that U.S. consumers will end up paying more for imported goods.

"There is no question the maritime industry cannot bear the burden, and it must be borne by the consumer," Conners said. n

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