(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Jared Walker)

Innovative, Multi-Layered Advances to Secure the World’s Maritime Cargo

Of the 250 million containers shipped annually, RAND Corporation estimates that fewer than two percent are checked to verify that the contents match the manifest. This is a shocking and worrisome revelation and places a huge burden on security, given that terrorists can exploit the porosity of the process to smuggle in goods such as weapons or narcotics, or even place explosives in the containers to detonate at points of carriage or destination.

With cargo figures up around the world, it is high time that these gaping holes in security are addressed to bring maritime cargo in line with the stringent processes that are now being seen in aviation cargo. Several new initiatives look to do just that.

Eyes to the sky

Already in service in air cargo security operations, canine/handler teams will soon be available as another layer in cargo screening at maritime ports, which until now have seen a combination of physical search and scanning equipment, depending on the port.

Brandon Fried, executive director of the Airforwarders Association, told Homeland Security Today that his organization is excited about using canine search teams because they are so accurate. Asked if he would rely only on canines, he replied he would not rely on any one method. “If I had doubts, I would always refer to technology,” he said. “The opposite holds true. If there was a doubt rising out of a scan by X-ray, I would use a canine. I believe in canines for passenger checkpoints, as well.”

“We are believers in a multi-layered approach. In defeating terrorism, you have to have as many layers as possible,” Fried added.

Dogs can be trained for different purposes and can detect drugs and explosives. They’ve been trained to handle the elements as well and they have a very keen sense of smell. The dogs used in such applications are most often Belgian Malinois, a breed that has a hip structure suitable for jumping in and out of trucks and containers.

Already in operation with the Israel Ports Development & Assets Company Ltd., a smartgate system is another borrow from aviation security, where it is primarily used for secure passenger processing and access. Just as airport smartgates are designed to expedite the movement of passengers with minimal human intervention, so are the port smartgates used to expedite movement of goods to and from locations without the need for personnel to oversee the process.

The smartgate in operation at the Israeli port of Ashod uses information received from the Israel Port Community System (IPCS), an advanced information system developed and managed by Israel Ports.

Exporters, shipping agents, customs agents, and transportation companies submit all the relevant details about the cargo and its destination directly to the IPCS in advance, including information regarding the truck and driver delivering the container. Everything needed to process the cargo at the port is set and ready even before the goods leave the factory gate. This information is distributed to all the ports. When the truck reaches the port, the gate reads the truck’s license plate, driver ID and container number and the driver receives the instructions on where to put the container in the port.

If there is a discrepancy between what is on screen and what is on the ground, the port’s central control and command is alerted and security steps in. The vehicle is immediately taken aside, allowing the other trucks arriving that day to be processed without delay. The process is entirely paperless and operates in real time, and is therefore capable of accommodating last-minute changes if necessary.

The smartgate system will enter operation at the port of Haifa late this year, and Israel’s remaining cargo ports could follow suit.

Layers of innovation

Meanwhile, industry is developing new container scanning systems for the CORE (Consistently Optimized Resilient Secure Global Supply-Chains) European Research Project. One of the project’s partners, Smiths Detection, is designing both hardware and software for the next generation of container scanners, which will increase throughput and improve detection. The aim is to verify as quickly and accurately as possible whether a container holds only its declared legal cargo and is not harboring contraband, weapons, explosives, drugs, or toxic materials.

The aim of the new hardware is to increase the rate at which containers are scanned, from around 100-150 per hour to between 300 and 500, which will give operators the tools that they need for faster, accurate analysis of images to prevent bottlenecks. Operator-assist features will include automatic detection of certain substances and the highlighting of suspicious areas within a container.

Having developed the capability, Smiths Detection is now working to integrate the technology into a demonstrator for factory testing and design review. The next stage will be demonstrating the new system in the field in collaboration with customs authorities in Europe, starting with the Netherlands at the end of this year. The intention is that this new scanning system, developed on an existing platform, will become standard across the shipping industry.

Another CORE project industry partner, Dutch software provider Itude Mobile, has developed an intelligent security seal. Known as Babbler, it requires no installation in the fabric of a truck or container and enables the integrity of the shipment to be monitored online via a smartphone app. The seal is broken if Babbler’s sensors detect light. Both the seal status and the temperature of the cargo can be inspected wirelessly via Bluetooth or long-range radio (LoRa). The LoRa network is now widely available across Europe and enables customs authorities to access the Babbler log hours before a vessel berths.

Multilayered security approaches must also take into account the asset or means of transportation itself – in this case, the container. Preventing unauthorized access to a container would significantly lessen the chances of it posing a security risk on its journey and at the destination.

In June, the U.S. government approved doorless shipping containers as a Qualified Anti-Terrorism Technology (QATT) under the SAFETY Act. The containers are manufactured by CakeBoxx Technologies and have a deck-and-lid two-piece container design. By removing the cargo doors typically installed on end-loading containers, the alternative design eliminates the most common vulnerability associated with container security. The design requires a significantly increased effort for malintent, be it human smuggling, conveyance of illegal goods, theft, tampering and vandalism.

While the raison d’etre for the CakeBoxx design is security-based, response from industry has shown that the long-awaited combination of security, cargo safety, employee safety and cargo handling efficiency is a welcomed addition to shipping options for containerized freight.

Dan Stajcar, director of the Container Security Initiative Division at U.S. Customs and Border Protection, told HSToday that they are “constantly looking for new and innovative ways to better accomplish the mission, especially in the area of technology to better detect anomalies and illicit and dangerous goods.”

“In most CSI locations, CBP has deployed handheld radiological isotope identification devices, which help officers discern different types of radioactive materials,” Stajcar said. “Once radioactive materials have been discovered, officers send the information in real time to CBP’s Labs and Scientific Services for analysis and identification of the material. Additional devices like these that would identify other dangerous substances (such as fentanyl) would enhance the safety and security of all officers.”

In the cat-and-mouse game between terrorists and security organizations, a multi-layered approach, developing technologies and methods that have proven successful in other applications, is not only advisable but essential. Terrorists do not sit still, and our defenses must therefore evolve constantly to keep pace. Fortunately, the many successful partnerships between the maritime cargo industry and government present a promising future for such a vital area of global security that has played second fiddle for far too long.

Joe Charlaff is a freelance journalist based in Jerusalem who has been published in international periodicals and websites in the United States and the UK, including Homeland Security Today, Jane’s Homeland Security Review, Jane’s Airport Review, Jane’s International Defence Review, CNBC Business Magazine, The Economist, Knowledge@Wharton, and Accounting & Business magazine.

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