N.Y.-N.J. Ports Panel Urges Nationwide Cargo Standards, Security Czar

By | December 22, 2006

A port security task force this week urged that the nation adopt mandatory security standards for cargo and that the president appoint a port security czar to coordinate the federal agencies that oversee the nation’s 361 seaports.

Shippers should also pay a security fee that would be divided among the U.S. ports so they could install more security, according to the task force established by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, whose bustling docks are among the nation’s busiest.

The suggestions were endorsed by Gov. Jon S. Corzine, who visited a Port Elizabeth terminal to outline the findings. Behind him, giant cranes hoisted trailer-sized shipping containers onto a massive cargo ship.

“It is more than these containers, it is that whole supply chain that exposes our society, and we need to make sure that we are doing everything that is possible,” Corzine said.

The governor said a nationwide credentialing system for port workers is still needed. The report said a system currently being developed, featuring background checks, is close to implementation but that the maritime industry believes problems have not yet been resolved.

The task force, composed of government and business leaders, determined that an attack at or through any one port would likely disrupt operations nationwide, so it said each port should develop its own recovery plan so it could return to business as soon “as efficiently as possible after a disaster.”

“There’s no question that the security issues and the enemies that we face are very sophisticated,” said Richard Canas, director of the state Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness, who appeared with Corzine. “Attacking our ports, frankly, means attacking our nation’s economy.”

“What we’re trying to do is secure the cargo before it arrives to our ports,” Canas said.

About 2.4 million of the 11.3 million containers entering the nation last year were handled at Port Authority docks last year, along with tons of bulk cargo and cars that were all worth more than $132 billion.

Officials acknowledged that most anti-terror attention since the 2001 attacks has been directed toward aviation. Indeed, the Port Authority — which had been based in the World Trade Center — also operates the region’s three major airports.

Port security gained a higher profile in January amid an uproar when the Bush administration said a company based in the United Arab Emirates could acquire some U.S. port operations. Public pressure led the company to decide to sell the U.S. assets.

Recommendations of the task force, formed in March, were being sent to members of Congress and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

The department plans to maintain a balance between proper screening — starting when U.S-bound cargo is loaded overseas — and ensuring that commerce is not strangled, spokesman Jarrod Agen said.

Its “risk management approach” not only utilizes U.S. personnel and technology overseas, but additional screening of high-risk cargo when it arrives at domestic ports, he said. Post Sept.-11 initiatives include mandating that U.S. officials receive a ship’s manifest 24 hours before it docks, he said.

The task force suggestion for a port security czar was dismissed by Agen as “additional bureaucracy.”

On the user fee, Agen said the department would work with industry and Congress to see if specifics could be devised.

The Port Authority, which charges $4 per container toward security costs, believes that it would be at a competitive disadvantage if other ports undersell them but don’t make needed improvements, Chairman Anthony R. Coscia said.

The agency, which receives no tax dollars, has invested more than $87 million on security at its ports since the 2001 attacks, executive director Kenneth J. Ringler said.

Federal funding to safeguard the region’s ports was boosted this fall to $25.7 million, from $6.6 million. That money is to protect against attacks by land or sea, not for cargo screening or container inspections.

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On the Net:

Port Authority report: http://www.panynj.gov/

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