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U.S. Rep. Thompson calls on DHS chief for status update on maritime cargo security

By Jeff Berman, Group News Editor
July 30, 2012

In a July 25 letter to Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, Representative Bennie G. Thompson (D-Miss.), ranking member of the House Homeland Security Committee, seeking more details on maritime cargo container scanning, Thompson expressed his disappointment over the apparent lack of progress being made since “Implementing Recommendations of the 9/11 Commission Act of 2007” was written into law.

“At today’s Committee on Homeland Security hearing, I was dismayed that you were unable to provide basic data in response to my questions regarding the percentage of maritime cargo containers screened for nuclear or radiological materials or other threats before arriving at U.S. ports,” wrote Thompson. “Your inability to provide this basic data was particularly disappointing given our longstanding engagement on the issue of maritime cargo security over the course of numerous Committee hearings.”

The H.R. 1 law called for 100 percent 100 percent scanning of all ocean borne cargo containers entering the U.S. by July 2012.

Since that time, though, DHS, Congress and other Washington-based concerns have said the deadline would not be met for myriad reasons, including lack of available funding and technology that is not sophisticated enough to handle this task.

Even with the myriad challenges associated with implementing this portion of H.R. 1, Thompson made it clear in the letter that at last week’s hearing he was seeking “clarity” on how much U.S.-bound cargo is currently being scanned.

“In general terms, we know that the overwhelming majority of U.S.-bound maritime cargo containers are not scanned overseas and that some may be scanned upon arrival in the U.S. As for so-called ‘high-risk’ containers, it is my understanding that only a small fraction of those containers are inspected prior to their arrival at U.S. ports. The vast majority of high-risk containers are examined only upon arrival. Waiting to resolve a high-risk container until it reaches American shores, should it be carrying nuclear or radiological material, could have devastating consequences, in loss of life, infrastructure, and trade.”

In a June editorial in the New York Times, Representatives Jerrold L. Nadler (D-NY), Edward J. Markey (D-MA.), and Thompson took aim at the lack of activity on behalf of the White House in executing on United State-bound maritime cargo being scanned before being loaded onto vessels.

In the Times editorial, the Representatives say that DHS has not done enough to deal with the threat of terrorism in the form of a nuclear bomb or weapon of mass destruction arriving in a container on a U.S.-bound vessel. DHS, they say, “has wasted precious time arguing that it would be too expensive and too difficult, logistically and diplomatically, to comply with the law. This is unacceptable.”

Thompson concluded his letter to Napolitano by requesting answers to the following questions about maritime security by August 8:
-What percentage of U.S.-bound maritime cargo containers are scanned prior to arrival in the U.S.?
-Of those containers not scanned overseas, what percentage is scanned upon arrival in the U.S.?
-What percentage of U.S.-bound maritime cargo containers are designated “high risk” each year?
-How many maritime cargo containers are designated as “high-risk” each year?
-What percentage of these “high-risk” containers are inspected or otherwise resolved prior to arrival in the U.S.?
-If less than 100 percent of the so-called “high-risk” containers are inspected or otherwise resolved prior to arrival in the U.S., what is DHS doing to address this security gap?

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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