Many truckers have
long been concerned about the gaps in security existing at our nation's ports.
On Thursday (Dec. 6), Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta, testifying before
a U.S. House of Representatives transportation committee, called for a higher
level of security checks at ports.
Under the proposed
order, ships would have to provide a list of crew members 96 hours before
docking in the United States. In a published report, Mineta said the measures
are needed to help prevent terrorists from shipping hazardous materials through
U.S. ports, or from using the ship itself as a bomb. The Coast Guard would
be able to stop and board ships 12 miles from U.S. shores, that's four times
the current limit.
Close to 27 million
cargo containers reach U.S. ports each year. Only about 2 percent of those
containers are inspected before being loaded on 18-wheelers or rail cars for
delivery throughout the United States. Owner-operators have little opportunity
or authority to inspect the container when it is assigned to them for transport.
The containers are sealed and few are actually inspected by customs officials.
"There ought to
be a better way to verify the contents of containers," said Todd Spencer,
vice president of the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association. "As
of this time there is no way to know if the contents of the container actually
match the paperwork. The place to begin the fix is in the foreign ports when
cargo is loaded."
Several senators testified
at the hearing Thursday, among them was Sen. Ernest Hollings (D-SC). "Perhaps
the most vulnerable link in our transportation system is the component few
Americans ever see: our major seaports," said Hollings, chairman of the
Senate Commerce Committee, who has introduced legislation to improve port
security. "Our 361 sea and river ports handle 95 percent of U.S. international
trade. These ports annually transfer more than 2 billion tons of freight,
often in huge containers from ships directly onto trucks and rail cars...less
than two percent of those containers are ever checked by customs or law enforcement
officials. That is a gaping hole in our national security that must be fixed."
Mineta told the House
subcommittee he was looking at the vulnerability of major ports, and said
local authorities would be asked to develop their own security plans.
He said the department
should be allowed to conduct security checks of foreign ports. He called for
a rapid response team to quickly enhance port security when there are serious
threats of terrorist activity. Mineta also said his department also was looking
at technology to make it possible to quickly inspect sealed containers, rather
than do an occasional check.