Sunday, October 31, 2010

Aftermath Of Yemeni Airfreight Bomb Plot Will Linger

Device Was Powerful Enough to Cause Disaster
Shipping News Feature

UK -YEMEN - US - Much has been written regarding the recent attempt to smuggle an explosive device aboard a US bound aircraft and its successful detection by staff at East Midlands airport. The incident has created a wave of trepidation regarding the carriage of cargo in the holds of passenger aircraft, something which up to now many of the public have apparently been unaware is standard industry practice.

The advice of Handy Shipping Guide staff has been both sought and widely reported on in the international media over this weekend and it is time to set the record straight regarding the latest occurrence. Perhaps other publications should have read our previous archived articles in August, June and in particular last year on the subject before publishing.

As anyone in the industry knows it would be very difficult for anyone sending an airfreight consignment to target a specific aircraft with an explosive device. Security screening ensures that packages are retained for a considerable time in airport freight forwarders premises prior to shipment. In fact there has certainly been a loss of traffic to some shipping companies as the delays incurred have caused other methods of transport to be a fast and more cost effective solution, particularly in the case of express courier and groupage services throughout Europe.

The many reporters who have contacted these offices in the past couple of days seemed surprised that nobody in the industry was prepared to talk frankly about the specifics of screening and cargo retention and examination. The whole point of security is to keep quiet about precise methods and comments by Martin Broughton from British Airways this week have proved to be spectacularly ill timed.

Mr Broughton felt that certain redundant security procedures at UK airports were unnecessary, not a view held by those with a view to safety. Redundant systems do not mean inefficiency merely that some systems do overlap so things get a second look. This latest incident proves that freight security is a combination of common sense, diligence and intelligence. Without the information received from Saudi sources it is doubtful that the printers loaded with PETN, a favoured explosive choice of al Qaeda's Yemeni branch, would have been discovered.

Obviously cargo emanating from countries like Yemen will always receive more scrutiny than many others, every package was already being individually inspected and now Britain has placed an all out ban on Yemeni cargo unless accompanied, but there will never be any such thing as 100% security.

Arrests have now been made in Yemen but it is likely that such attacks will continue, hopefully only sporadically and with the same result as in this case. In the meantime all freight forwarders and others in the supply chain are encouraged to review all their security procedures and maintain a high level of vigilance.

Editors Note: Some of the reports published over the weekend in both national and international media have taken quotes given by us out of context or simply been incorrect. This is unfortunately always going to be the case when reporters cannot understand such distinctions as airfreight and ocean container freight.