Shippers must follow rules

NEW YORK CITY — A top Homeland Security official acknowledged that it is nearly impossible to police goods made in foreign countries before they arrive at ports to be shipped to the United States.

That is why it is critically important to make sure shippers comply with security rules before reaching a U.S. port, Asa Hutchinson, DHS' undersecretary for Border and Transportation Security, told a gathering of maritime officials here.

"Maritime operations provide the means of opportunity for terrorists," he said today at the U.S. Maritime Security Expo, "and disruption of the supply chain would be devastating."

With 361 ports in the United States and 7,500 foreign flagged vessels arriving each year, DHS faces the tough task of making sure the maritime system is protected. Technology is essential because it provides tools to keep trade and traffic flowing, Hutchinson said.

"Technology is the cornerstone, particularly in maritime security," he said.

Officials are testing a transportation worker identification system that would provide ID cards to workers at the ports after they undergo a background check. A pilot project for the Transportation Worker Identification Credential (TWIC) system being developed by the Transportation Security Administration is under way in Philadelphia and Los Angeles.

The Coast Guard is working on developing unmanned aerial surveillance, and private shippers are starting to provide advance manifests and conduct their own searches.

Nevertheless, the supply chain is still vulnerable and could face disruption at any point, Hutchinson said.

A lack of confidence in supply chain security will slow the arrival and distribution of billions of dollars of goods. If there is any question about the shipments, "it will be inspected, 100 percent of it if we are not satisfied," he said.

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