Allegation of lax cargo container inspections sets off alarms

DHS port security authorities reputedly were
stunned by the disclosure of Mike Mitre, Director of Coast Port
Security, Longshore Division of the International Longshore and
Warehouse Union (ILWU), that “marine terminal operators along the west
coast continue to refuse, despite repeated encouragement and demands
from the ILWU, to implement adequate port security measures to protect
our port workers, communities and the nation as a whole from possible
terrorist attacks.”

“Even more shocking and inexplicable,” Mitre
told lawmakers, “is the reality that some terminal operators have
reduced or abandoned some of the most basic port security measures
following the September 11th terrorist attack.”

The day before the hearing, DHS Secretary Tom
Ridge had told the attendees of the American Association of Port
Authorities Spring Conference in Washington, DC that “the Department of
Homeland Security will work with businesses to help develop and
prototype solutions, such as tamper-evident container seals.”

But according to Mitre, port operators have
virtually abandoned checking cargo seals. Despite the obvious security
risks and new federal regulations, Mitre testified that “many companies
have actually reduced security by, among other things, discontinuing
the practice of inspecting the integrity of container seals upon
entering marine terminal facilities.”

Mitre said operators discontinued “regular
inspection of container seals and inspection of ‘empty’ containers
shortly before and after Sept. 11, 2001. The halt on inspecting
container seals at certain West Coast marine terminal facilities is
especially disconcerting given that Coast Guard regulations …
specifically mandate that terminal operators and owners ‘check seals
and other methods used to prevent tampering upon entering the facility
and upon storage within the facility.’ ”

“Every day we unload thousands of containers
from ships calling from virtually every point on the globe, each filled
with unknown items packed by unknown people throughout the world. Few
of these containers or vessels are screened or inspected before being
unloaded by longshoremen,” Mitre said. HST

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