WASHINGTON — Touting homeland security at Port Elizabeth, N.J., on Monday, President Bush said New York and New Jersey ports will get a boost from a planned $60 million closed-circuit TV system.
Cargo security has taken on a crucial role in homeland security in light of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and subsequent anthrax and other biological weapons threats.
“The whole purpose is to push out our maritime borders, giving us more time to identify threats and more time to respond,” Bush told hundreds of U.S. Coast Guard members and Port Authority of New York & New Jersey officials from aboard a Coast Guard cutter. The new closed-circuit system will place cameras around “sensitive areas” in the ports, Bush said. “This will strengthen our ability to safeguard these facilities.”
A spokesman for the Port Authority told WWD that the new closed-circuit system will be installed in the next two to three years at the two New Jersey ports and at New York ports in Brooklyn and Staten Island. The Port Authority already has a camera system in place, but the spokesman would not disclose details about the existing system or the new closed-circuit system for security reasons.
He said the Port Authority’s main message, however, is to have cargo containers checked at the point of origin.
“If containers get into our port with weapons of mass destruction, it’s too late,” he said. “Our director has pushed before Congress the need to have a system in place whereby containers are checked and verified at the point of origin, not when they get to New York and New Jersey.”
To that end, U.S. Customs Service officials launched the Container Security Initiative in January. One of the core elements involves placing Customs inspectors at major foreign seaports to prescreen cargo containers before they are shipped to the U.S.
On Tuesday, Customs is expected to add Rotterdam, the Netherlands, to the list of foreign ports to allow U.S.-bound cargo to be pre-screened. Canada and Singapore have already signed up for the program that will put U.S. Customs officials at foreign ports to work along side foreign inspectors. Customs Commissioner Robert Bonner has said he wants all such megaports to be part of the initiative by year’s end.
Customs reports that 5.7 million sea containers enter the U.S. annually. In 2000, nearly 500,000 individuals and companies imported products to the U.S. But 1,000 companies accounted for 62 percent of the value of all imports, Customs said.
Port Elizabeth and nearby Port Newark form the largest seaport on the East Coast, moving more cargo than anywhere else on the Atlantic coasts of North or South America. Customs can search only 2 to 3 percent of the 3,500 containers that arrive daily at the New Jersey ports and neighboring facilities in Brooklyn and Staten Island, according to the spokesman. Last Monday, the Department of Transportation said it would grant $92.3 million to 51 U.S. ports to improve security.
Bush said: “The Customs Service is working with overseas ports and shippers to improve its knowledge of container shipments and assessing risk so that we have a better feel of who we ought to look at and what we ought to worry about.””