SFI Hong Kong Pilot Extended To April 2009

HONG KONG – Hong Kong is home to one of the busiest ports in the world, ranking third behind Singapore and Shanghai.
Modern Terminals Ltd. (MTL), which opened the Chinese special administrative region’s first container terminal in 1972, has been operating a cargo screening portal since November 2007 as part of Secure Freight Initiative (SFI) pilot program with the United States.
The limited pilot was supposed to end in April of 2008, but has been extended until April 2009.
"Modern Terminals believes an unwavering commitment to port security will protect the safety and interests of the community as a whole," an MTL spokesman told HSToday after a recent visit to the company’s terminals in Hong Kong. "The company has been supportive towards [the] Hong Kong government on the participation in the SFI on a pilot basis."
The Hong Kong government recently said since the pilot hasn’t affected port efficiency "so far," the extension can better evaluate "its effectiveness and impact on the efficient running of the port."
MTL currently handles more than 5.72 million of the port’s 24 million TEUs (twenty-foot equivalent units, based on a standard size cargo box) each year, and in 2004, launched its own Integrated Container Inspection System (ICIS). ICIS deployed optical character recognition (OCR) technology, radiographic imaging and radiation scanning of containers on moving trucks.
So MTL was a natural choice when the US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) was looking to pilot a program screening US-bound cargo, as mandated by the U.S. SAFE Port Act. About 67-70 percent of US-bound containers going through non-transshipment terminals where the ICIS lane is accessible are scanned.
Drivers, who have secure unique access ID cards to get in and around the Hong Kong port, have the option to go through the scanner. If they choose to be scanned, they wait in the "lay bay" until a machine tells them where to drop off their loads.
They then drive through the ICIS lane, which consists of two portals.
At the first portal, gamma rays penetrate the container with a VACIS P7500 Z-Ray inspection system developed by Science Applications International Corp., which should be able to scan 150 40-foot containers per hour. The driver is not scanned as the technology checks for weapons, explosives and other threats.
The second portal contains a radiation monitor which triggers an alarm if the container’s level exceeds a certain threshold established by the US Department of Energy. No major alarms have been triggered in Hong Kong, according to officials.
If trucks drive through too close together, a yellow drop bar descends. The process can facilitate almost non-stop traffic flow. Five cameras using OCR take two pictures each from different angles, for a total of 10 pictures, to confirm identifying cargo numbers.
A confidence level is then given by a computer for each screening. An "A" means all identifying marks can be seen clearly and match cargo manifests. Anything less than an "A" means an MTL observer can replay, zoom in on and slow the image to get clear identifier, which can then be typed in manually.
MTL has no enforcement authority if an alarm is set off or if pictures don’t correspond to cargo manifests, but it can place a hold on containers so they’re not shipped.
Hong Kong Customs and Excise (HKCE), which sees all the data simultaneously, analyzes and interprets the data, and does further scans and cargo searches if needed.
Several challenge face the Hong Kong pilot: limited space; data-sharing and ownership issues; health and safety of truckers driving through the SFI systems; and equipment malfunctions. From Nov. 19, 2007 to Jan. 10, 2008, the ICIS system was shut down for 450 hours total. The system actually was not functioning properly when this reporter visited.
So what does MTL recommend to other port operators and governments in making sure SFI is a success?
For one, scanning of barge and transshipment moves will be needed when SFI is fully implemented. Company officials suggest that communication with the trucking community on the safety of the non-intrusive inspection (NII) system is also needed.
"It is recommended that terminal operators stay engaged with US CBP to ensure new policies/procedures will not impact terminal productivity," officials added. "Both the government and the industry have major roles in making SFI work. Both sides must collaborate to find a workable end to end solution."
Liza Porteus Viana is a Washington Correspondent for HSToday/HSToday.us

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