Friday, October 30, 2015

Dirty Bombs and 100% Container Screening

American Admiralty Books Safety & Privacy Policies

Shipping Container Marshaling Yard.  Photo by NOAA

For years the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) Agency has been telling Congress that physically screening 100% of the shipping containers is prohibitively expensive. Congress in turn has been questioning the wisdom of not screening 100% of containers and constantly pushing the CBP  to find ways to improve efficiency so that it becomes economic. Over the years that we have been following this issue we have seen increases in the percentage of containers physically examined and improvements in the screening criteria and systems. Recently the U.S. House has begun a major push for 100% scanning again this time citing the dirty bomb threat.  

 Yesterday we read of  U.S. House legislators advocating the scanning all containers that come into the U.S. again. During a Tuesday congressional hearing on the threat of dirty bombs, or explosives using radioactive materials and conventional explosives, a House subcommittee reiterated their calls for the long-delayed federal mandate. CBP senior management reiterated their position  that 100%  scanning is  impractical, both for trade and financial reasons. But this time they made the additional claim that 100% scanning could somehow prove more dangerous than the current practice of only scanning high-risk shipments.  While as experienced merchant marine officers we find the cost argument viable though decreasingly so, we find the argument that 100% screening is somehow more dangerous just plain drivel. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS)  was granted a two-year extension last year to implement the 100-percent screening policy. Prior, the DHS missed both its initial 2012 deadline and another in 2014. At a Congressional hearing Tuesday before the House Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation, Rep. Janice Hahn, D-Calif., reiterated her call for 100 % scanning of all containers at U.S. ports.  As Rep, Hahn said: “I have said it once and I will say it again, we need 100-percent scanning at our ports. The risks are too high not to,” the congresswoman said. (Journal of Commerce, 10/27/2015). Frankly, we concur.

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