NEW YORK — A growing number of ocean carriers have stepped forward to participate in the Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism, a U.S. Customs Service program intended to improve the security of the millions of cargo containers that enter...
NEW YORK — A growing number of ocean carriers have stepped forward to participate in the Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism, a U.S. Customs Service program intended to improve the security of the millions of cargo containers that enter the nation’s ports each year without bringing world trade to a grinding halt.
Major lines including Seaboard Marine, APL Logistics and Maersk-Sealand have agreed in the C-TPAT program to step up their efforts to keep their ships and cargo secure, through such steps as running background checks on all employees, inspecting all supposedly empty containers to verify they are empty and notifying Customs of cargoes and shippers with unusual profiles.
The importance of this program became all the more clear last week, after the Coast Guard detained a ship outside the port of New York and New Jersey after inspectors discovered unexpected radiation on the ship. Military officials eventually determined that the source of radiation was a container of clay tiles with some naturally radioactive properties that did not pose a threat.
Within the industry, however, the fear is that a container could be used to smuggle terrorist operatives or weapons into the U.S., and that if one major violation occurred, all other ship commerce could grind to a halt while government officials searched containers for other threats.
Seaboard Marine last week said its security procedures have gotten the nod from Customs, making it one of the first ocean carriers officially admitted into the program.
Charles Mussoline, the Miami-based company’s director of security, said the C-TPAT program had many elements in common with the Super Carrier Initiatives Program that is already in place, which is intended to prevent drug smuggling.
"The emphasis of SCIP has been drugs and illegal contraband, whereas the C-TPAT program emphasizes border security and terrorism," he said. "As a signatory to SCIP, Seaboard is already performing most of the security steps outlined by C-TPAT. For example, we have been performing background checks on all U.S. employees, not just those working at the docks, since 1990."
A spokesman for Oakland, Calif.-based APL noted that as part of the effort to qualify for the C-TPAT program, the company in May created a new position of vice president for port and container security to increase the firm’s focus on security. Susan Hayman, a company veteran, was named to that post.The spokesman said Friday the company was completing its application for the program.
Madison, N.J.-based Maersk also agreed at the beginning of the program to join and has indicated that it intends to comply with the C-TPAT procedures. Maersk officials could not be reached for comment Monday.
As reported last month, 400 U.S. businesses have agreed to participate in C-TPAT.
Companies that agreed to increase their security measures are to receive "fast lane" entry through border checkpoints. Customs officials have not yet disclosed what that will entail.
The APL spokesman said the C-TPAT would be important in U.S. efforts to balance its physical and economic needs.
"There are two kinds of security. Physical security on one hand, but we’re also talking about economic security. Shippers have become very used to having fast and flexible supply chains," he said. "We’d like to be able to have physical security without unnecessarily slowing down the pipeline. The key word there is ‘unnecessarily.’ The security of the country comes first."
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