Baltimore Port Safety Examined
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RAY SUAREZ: Some 400,000 containers a year are unloaded and head out into America from the Port of Baltimore. More than 11 million come into all the country’s ports.
If the Dubai Ports World purchase of the British company P&O has shown the public anything, it’s this: Who gets a container full of truck tires from an overseas factory to a nearby dealer is complicated and involves a lot of different hands.
Brooks Royster is the executive director of the Maryland Port Administration. He said, port contractors like DPW aren’t in charge of security.
BROOKS ROYSTER, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, MARYLAND PORT ADMINISTRATION: We provide our own security. We have our facility security plan that we provide, that we vet with — with the security force out there, the police department, the Coast Guard, Customs and Border Protection. And when — with our facility security plan, our contractor works within our rules and regulations.
They don’t promulgate their own rules and regulations. They have to adhere to ours. We provide infrastructure. We provide the rules and regulations for security and — and our tariffs, and a private contractor works within that purview.
RAY SUAREZ: Even with that assurance, some strollers on the Baltimore waterfront had worries. For this Maryland couple, the main issue was not the political firestorm over Dubai, but security.
WALTER ETTERSHANK, RESIDENT OF MARYLAND: There must be a better way to inspect a great — greater number of containers, if not all containers.
RUTH ETTERSHANK, RESIDENT OF MARYLAND: Yes. That’s the problem with the — with the harbors, not who’s running them, but nobody’s looking at what comes in.
RAY SUAREZ: For now, nothing will change here. Dubai Ports World and its holding companies will continue to run Baltimore and six other ports, until the transfer to an American business is complete. So, these Americans, managed by Americans, unloading ships, transferring cargo, getting it screened, are working, for that moment, for a company in the United Arab Emirates, which is not what bothers port security expert Stephen Flynn, who testified on Capitol Hill yesterday.
He’s glad we’re having a security debate, even if it all got started for the wrong reasons.
STEPHEN FLYNN, COUNCIL ON FOREIGN RELATIONS: It’s the reality that over 60 percent of all our terminals already are leased to foreign-owned companies, and they’re in private hands. And I think the real question is, given that reality, is entrusting the security of this critical infrastructure — critical to our economy, critical to our security — with a, “You guys do what you think’s OK; we’re not going to set any standards; we’re going to provide virtually no oversight of that process,” whether that’s a good model, given its criticality.
RAY SUAREZ: The consultation about what’s in this container doesn’t start, as this massive crane drops it on American soil. This vessel got in touch, at least four days ago, with the Coast Guard and Lieutenant Commander Lee Boon.
LIEUTENANT COMMANDER LEE BOON, U.S. COAST GUARD: In that advanced notice of arrival, it includes vessel name, operator, all the crew members, what they’re carrying, where they’re going. And all of that information is — is sent in ahead of time and screened by the Coast Guard and Customs jointly. And, based on the information, we decide on what our inspection and — and security posture is going to be when they arrive.
RAY SUAREZ: Jack Ramsey of Customs and Border Protection oversees the extra screening.
What are the kinds of variables that would constitute red flags that would make you say, yes, we should take that other look?
JACK RAMSEY, U.S. CUSTOMS AND BORDER PROTECTION: History of the shipper, if there’s no history, we’re probably going to look at the container. If they have never shipped anything in the Port of Baltimore, we’re going to take a look at it. If it was shipped through what we consider a high-risk country, we’re going to take a look at it. If it was handled by someone that we’re not sure of or we have no data on, we’re going to take a look at it.
RAY SUAREZ: With his partners in Customs and the Maryland Transportation Police, Lieutenant Commander Boon thinks the strategy of concentrating on the highest-risk cargoes makes sense.
BOON: We have numerous tools to — to screen vessels, crew members, cargo to determine the highest-risk vessels and crew members and cargo, and to concentrate all of our — all of our efforts, what we have, into those areas where we think the highest risk is.
RAY SUAREZ: Stephen Flynn says the port basically runs on the honor system, that the rules only work if all the other links in the shipping chain are honest.
FLYNN: It’s a global network. It’s global players. We have got to figure out — move from, essentially, an honor system, which we have today, very low bar, in terms of security, very few resources for the agency to provide oversight, to one that sets decent standards to safeguard our interests and actually provides some decent oversight.
RAY SUAREZ: Flynn says it’s hard to know who’s dishonest, since only a small percentage, about one in 10, of the containers, get extra screening to check that its contents match the Customs declaration and gets a once-over with a handheld radiation detector to confirm that the cargo doesn’t include radioactive materials.
An even tinier percentage, around 1 percent, are opened for a visual check. Since cargoes from unknown shippers, problem shippers and countries with security problems are likely to be flagged for extra screening, like this X-raying to check the contents, all you have got to do to get a dirty bomb into the port is infiltrate a screener with a good record, and you only have to get away with it once.
As the world’s biggest customer, Flynn says, America should force the rest of the world to tighten its security, even as this country tightens its own. He agrees, most shippers are playing by the rules, but the rules set the bar too low.