Thursday, December 3, 2009

US Admits Target For Screening Cargo In Every Shipping Container Will Be Missed

Bush Freight Examination Targets leave Obama Government with the Problem
Shipping News Feature

US – Politicians, as all good cynics know, often mean well but don’t live in the real world with the rest of us. This is now seemingly being discovered by the incumbent Obama administration and yesterday Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano had to admit that the inspection of every consignment, in every shipping container imported into the United States, was proving another pipe dream.

Ms Napolitano, to be fair, has inherited a set of undertakings given by the Bush government in the wake of the 9/11 panic, an emotive state which still persists in the American psyche. No doubt that the intent to verify every consignment was non nuclear at the very least is an appropriate one, the screening of every item entering the country was always going to be an unreachable target. All credit to the Homeland Security Department for a laudable effort, but our report two days ago shows exactly what they are up against when dealing with real people in real situations.

The programme to screen 100% of import freight has been trialled in five US ports. There are seven hundred plus overseas ports from whence goods enter the country, in what sounds like a wholly unworkable proposal the administration want to cut that number to less than sixty. So far, according to Ms Napolitano, “the technology doesn’t exist” which can ensure every item is identified as safe. Also attempts to screen in the foreign exporting ports “has met with some problems”. This is not coming as news to the rest of us. The report being discussed by the Commerce Committee also encountered “some logistics problems… containers were transferred from rail or other vessels”, i.e. intermodal transport that so many governments talk about but don’t actually understand the complexities of.

Perhaps someone should have explained to the administrators in simple terms what these examinations mean. They are equivalent to stopping every citizen stepping off every train arriving at every station in the US every day and searching them, thoroughly. The US Customs and Border Protection Agency report states there are 21,000 shipping routes into the US. Ms Napolitano estimates to ensure every consignment is checked will cost around $168 billion for the 10 million plus TEU’s coming in annually.

Now it seems, reality has bitten, overseas governments don’t want US officials slowing export traffic through their ports, to examine every shipment with current technology will produce an additional cost of $8 million average per entry route (according to Homelands own figures that breaks down to an unbelievable $16,800 per container if scheduled over the course of a single year).

Ms Napolitano believes the administration will miss the deadline of July 2012 to examine every piece of freight entering the country, hardly a surprise to freight community where every shipper in the world worth their salt could have predicted it. Despite this, efforts to ensure that freight is examined as closely and swiftly as possible must continue. The scathing comments from the Government Accountability office on the limited progress made toward scanning targets by Homeland Security are a little unfair given the enormity of the task. Only renewed efforts to incorporate the latest technology (like the cargo screening ferret illustrated here last month), the very best intelligence data and constant vigilance by all in the freight community can make a substantial difference to cargo security. Even then with the best will in the world 100% security is merely a politician’s term.