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Port Congestion Creates Security Threats

Insufficient manpower and increasing cargo shipments at U.S. ports could lead to heightened national security threats, the New York Times reported today (see GSN, July 1).

The California ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, the country’s busiest, are the hardest hit, according to the Times.

Workers at the port of Los Angeles cannot keep up with freight shipments, according to David Arian, president of Local 13 of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union. The delays are resulting in some new port regulations from the Department of Homeland Security being ignored, he added.

“The specific regulations for checking seals to ensure integrity of containers and cargo in them are presently not being enforced,” Arian said. “In terms of checking people coming into the terminals, the only people they’re checking are longshoremen. We’ve been down there 70 years, and we’re the most secure part of the work force. The truckers they don’t check at all,” he added.

That is not the case, said Jim McKenna, president of the Pacific Maritime Association, which operates the major West Coast seaports.

“I can tell you unequivocally that all PMA members are in compliance with all the federal regulations,” McKenna said. 

He said containers were sealed before being loaded on ships heading to the United States and that everyone must present identification or appropriate paperwork to enter a secure marine terminal.

“We are responsible for the ports,” McKenna said. “It’s our cargoes, our customers, our workers. The flow of cargo would be disrupted beyond repair for us not to comply with security regulations,” he added.

Cargo containers are likely to one day be used as “the poor man’s missile” against the United States, said Stephen Flynn, a retired U.S. Coast Guard commander and a maritime security expert at the Council on Foreign Relations.

“The question is when, not if,” said Flynn, author of America the Vulnerable: How Our Government Is Failing to Protect Us From Terrorism.

Inspecting every cargo container entering the United States is impossible, according to James Michie, a spokesman for the U.S. Customs and Border Protection. However, he said U.S. ports were screening containers at a rate consistent with the current elevated threat alert level. Some containers were physically inspected while radiation-detection devices and other high-technology tools scanned others, he added.

“It is a system that is under development; we think it’s the best we’ve got now, but it’s going to get better,” he said. “We think we’re on the right track,” Michie added (John Broder, New York Times, July 27).

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