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Mandate for 100 percent ocean container scanning blasted by shippers

By Jeff Berman, Group News Editor
June 03, 2014

A 100 percent provision for ocean container scanning remains impractical, flawed, and continues to serve as a threat to efficient global commerce. Those served as some of the main takeaways in a letter from 70 organizations including distributors, farmers, importers, manufacturers, retailers, transportation and logistics providers, and wholesalers, to Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson this week.

The letter, which was spearheaded by the National Retail Federation, U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and the World Shipping Council, praised a letter Secretary Johnson penned to the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs Chairman Tom Carper, which included his decision to renew the extension of the deadline for full-scale implementation of 100 percent scanning of U.S.-bound maritime cargo containers for another two years.

The 100 percent container scanning mandate is a byproduct of the 2006 SAFE (Security and Accountability for Every Port) Port Act. It requires U.S.-bound maritime cargo containers to be scanned by radiation detective equipment and non-intrusive imaging systems at foreign ports prior to the cargo being loaded onto a vessel, as per the language in the SAFE Port Act. The bill added that this law is designed to prevent radiological and nuclear terrorism by denying terrorists the ability to transport radiological/nuclear weapons via one of the more than 12 million maritime containers that enter the U.S. annually from more than 800 global ports.

This mandate initially directed DHS to have 100 percent scanning implemented by 2012 while authorizing DHS to extend the deadline for two years and renew the extension in additional two-year increments if at least two of six statutory conditions existed. The current deadline for another extension is July 1, 2014.

“DHS finds that in 2014, the conditions and supporting evidence cited in in the 2012 deadline extension continue to prevail and preclude full scale implementation of the provision at this time,” wrote Johnson. “[T]he use of systems that are available to scan containers would have a negative impact on trade capacity and the flow of cargo. Additionally, systems to scan containers cannot be purchased, deployed, or operated at ports overseas because ports do not have the physical characteristics to install such a system.”

Johnson added that after a review of the nation’s current port security and DHS’s short term and long term ability to comply with 100 percent scanning equipment that DHS’s ability to fully comply with the unfunded mandate of 100 percent scanning is highly improbable, hugely expensive, and not the best use of taxpayer resources to meet port security and homeland security needs.

Among the alternative action items he has instructed DHS to do for complying with the mandate’s underlying objectives are: increase scanning abroad; improve targeting; engage stakeholders; and address other political vulnerabilities.

The letter sent to Johnson this week fully endorsed the current risk-based strategy employed by DHS, saying it is the “right approach to enhance global supply chain security,” adding that “Congress needs to repeal the mandate and focus on practical supply chain security solutions.”

It also pointed out that the container scanning provision is impractical and does not improve security, and were it to be implemented it would have a very negative impact on global commerce and create conflict with the governments of foreign trading partners, many that have voiced opposition to the requirement in the past.

NRF Vice President for Supply Chain and Customs Policy Jon Gold said in an interview that this mandate is replete with challenges that make it very difficult to put it into place.

“We think more emphasis needs to be placed on the risk-based approach DHS has in place right now,” he said. “It is a better way to go when looking at supply chain security. There are no 100 percent guarantees, but the risk-based approach is the best one. We believe the mandate should be repealed so we can focus on the real issues and gaps in supply chain security and address them.”

Industry stakeholders have long maintained that the 2012 deadline was too ambitious to be met, citing a lack of proven and sophisticated technology.

“CBP, the trade community, and virtually all foreign governments agree that 100 percent scanning of containers coming in to the U.S. is a bad idea,” said Kelby Woodard, principal of cargo security firm Trade Innovations, in a previous interview. “The technology is expensive and unproven, the volumes are prohibitive, and the global infrastructure (not to mention the political will) is inadequate to implement such an ambitious goal.  Most importantly, it would create a dangerous false sense of security.  The layering of risk based and flexible methods like CSI, C-TPAT, and ISF are the most effective way to address the very real and ever-changing risks within the global supply chain.”

About the Author

Jeff Berman headshot
Jeff Berman
Group News Editor

Jeff Berman is Group News Editor for Logistics Management, Modern Materials Handling, and Supply Chain Management Review. Jeff works and lives in Cape Elizabeth, Maine, where he covers all aspects of the supply chain, logistics, freight transportation, and materials handling sectors on a daily basis. .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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