(Nov. 25) New port security legislation will result in delays and damage to perishable product, according to Robert Mirone, New York-based lawyer and president of the International Refrigerated Transportation Association, Aurora, Colo.

“It’s a very new world, and the burden on carriers is tremendous,” he said Nov. 19.

Congress passed the Maritime Transportation Security Act of 2002, which would tighten security at U.S. ports, on Nov. 14 and sent the bill to President Bush for his signature.

Part of the measure, largely driven by post-Sept. 11 concerns, calls for greater screening of cargo that is shipped in containers or put onto trucks and trains with little or no inspection. The new law mandates increased screening of containers but does not include user fee language that would pay for the cost of the necessary technology and manpower.

TRANSPORTATION VULNERABILITIES

Congressional debate of the issue highlighted vulnerabilities in the transportation sector.

The Interagency Commission on Crime and Security at U.S. Seaports issued a report a year ago that said security at U.S. seaports “ranges from poor to fair.”

The bill will require, for the first time, that the U.S. government know more in advance about the cargo and crew members coming into the U.S. The bill also includes performance standards for the locking and sealing of containers.

LESS THAN 2% CHECKED

Sen. Ernest Hollings, a South Carolina Democrat and outgoing Senate Commerce Committee chairman, said less than 2% of the 5.5 million containers received in the U.S. each year are checked by customs or law enforcement officials.

“Ideally it would be 100%,” Mirone said. However, delays in the delivery of perishable cargo will be significant, he said, as the percentage of containers subjected to screening and inspection rises in coming months and years.

Increasing the percentage of containers screened will take time. Mirone noted that government authorities delayed for a year the deadline for airport screening of baggage, and he said that more sophisticated technology is required for screening of containers.

To increase the amount of cargo screened, the bill provides $90 million in research grants to do the following:

  • increase the inspection ability of the U.S. Customs Service;

  • develop equipment to detect nuclear materials;

  • improve the tags and seals used on shipping containers, including smart sensors for tracking shipments;

  • and, develop tools to mitigate the consequences of terrorist attack.


Mirone said the legislation was “necessary and desirable,” though he described the potential impact on shipping companies as “horrendous.”

Some problems will include an increase in claims, delays and damage, but he said their frequency should decrease over time.

In addition to an emphasis on screening containers, the legislation requires sea ports to have comprehensive security plans. It also requires the government to collect and analyze information about ships operating in U.S. waters.