Cargo News

Customs folding ocean moves into ‘C-TPAT’ Commissioner Robert Bonner has extended his program for air cargo to include ocean shipments

By Janet Plume Date April 1, 2002

Importers and carriers must begin increasing supply chain security at foreign ports where cargo originates if they want to join Customs’ anti-terrorist program.

That is the word from Customs Commissioner Robert Bonner. He says that in exchange for help from the trade, the cargo of forwarders, shippers, brokers and carriers who adopt the Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism plan will be expedited upon entering the United States. The voluntary ocean cargo program is the latest security measure from Bonner, who has extended C-TPAT from its origns at airports to now include seaports.

Going forward, waterborne cargo that crosses port wharves will be divided into either low-risk or high-risk categories. Low-risk cargo won’t be delayed by Customs, while high-risk cargo will poked, prodded and screened, Bonner has said in a series of speech in the last month, including remarks to spring meetings of the American Association of Port Authorities in Washington, D.C. and the National Customs Brokers & Forwarders Association of America at their recent Florida conference.


Bonner also urged ports and forwarders to adopt the Container Security Initiative, which will heighten container security with advanced screening at ports of origin, more detailed manifests at ports of origin and electronic seals on smart boxes.

The CSI program is key to Customs’ anti-terrorism campaign because about 90 percent of all port cargo today–some 200 million boxes annually–is containerized.

“All trading nations should be concerned about the ways global trade would be impacted by a catastrophic event involving sea containers, specifically by the use of a container to smuggle a weapon of mass destruction into the United States,” Bonner said, recalling the Egyptian national discovered in an Italian port inside a Canada-bound container outfitted with bed, bathroom, computer and wireless transmission equipment, airport maps and security passes. “It is by no means far fetched.”

Such a catastrophe would quickly bring global trade to a standstill, Bonner said, because ports would automatically shut down until tighter security measures were in place.

“I don’t have to tell you that even a two-week shutdown of global sea container traffic would be devastating, costing billions of dollars,” he said. “But the shutdown would, in all likelihood, be much longer, as governments struggled to figure out how to build a security system that could find the other deadly needles in the massive haystack of global trade.”

By screening U.S.-bound containers at ports of origin, Bonner aims to make U.S. ports the last – instead of the first – line of defense, in the security chain. The concept requires Customs to set up inspection stations armed with X-ray and gamma-ray inspection machines and radiation detectors.

To persuade foreign officials to allow the intrusion, Bonner is meeting with officials from the 10 largest ports in Asia and Europe. These megaports – including Hong Kong; Singapore; Rotterdam, Netherlands; Pusan, South Korea; Bremerhaven, Germany; Tokyo, Japan and Genoa, Italy – combine to handle almost half of all containers exported to the United States.

Customs officials are already working in Canada at the ports of Vancouver, Montreal and Halifax. Canadian customs inspectors recently began working at the ports of Seattle and Newark, N.J.

“The United States must move quickly in partnership with these governments to build a new international security standard,” Bonner said.

Electronic seals affixed to these smart containers will alert Customs inspectors to any tampering. The seal functions as a padlock with an electronic chip that signals Customs officials if the box is compromised. CSI containers also will carry motion or light detectors to sound an alarm if a seal is broken.

Bonner admits that implementing such programs presents a daunting task, but he believes that Customs has no other option.

For example, Customs officials would require carriers to submit detailed manifests at the port of origin rather than the port of destination. SB1214 – the Hollings/Graham Seaport Security Bill – would give Customs the power to make such a mandate. The bill is pending before Congress.

“The manifest description, ‘Freight all Kinds’, will quickly be a relic like sailing ships and sextants,” Bonner said. “Vague descriptions on cargo manifests are no longer acceptable in the post 9/11 world.”


Port officials can help introduce the new Customs initiatives by explaining the programs to their customers, Bonner told AAPA members.

Low-risk cargo, inspected at the port of origin and sealed electronically, will enter the United States and breeze through Customs on the fast lane.

High-risk cargo will receive intense scrutiny and proceed on the slow lane through Customs.. Paperwork will be closely examined. Boxes will be screened by gamma ray machines that see inside. Some containers will be physically inspected as well.

“We are partnering with large importers and other members of the trade who see tight supply chain security as in their best interest,” Bonner said. “We are designing programs with them. And companies are lining up to join.”

By voluntarily taking common-sense steps to raise supply chain security before the cargo arrives at a U.S. port, Customs officials expedite the inspection process and other compliance procedures for cargo handled by member importers and brokers. These companies advise business partners and suppliers on both ends of the logistics chain of their security guidelines.

Everyone benefits in the long run, Bonner said, because intermodal shipments can be planned further in advance and more containers can be moved directly from ship to truck or rail.

For importers, these programs translate into fewer Customs exams, more predictable deliveries, reduced inventory, less theft, lower transportation costs, and no weapons of mass destruction in the container, Bonner said.

For ports, the programs translate into more efficient container movement, greater predictability, increased terminal storage space and shorter queues at terminal exits.

Until pre-screened containers begin arriving from foreign ports, Customs is taking immediate steps to ensure high-risk containers are physically inspected. The department is increasing the number of mobile gamma ray machines by half to 106 units. Several dozen more will be added next year.

The machines will inspect high-risk imported containers, as well as all containers bound for ports that partner with Customs on the CSI program, Bonner said.

“This could have an impact on your ports,” he said. “We may need to work with you to identify inspection areas and facilities. I know terminal space is already at a premium, but if we work together we can accomplish this with minimal impact on the flow of cargo across your piers.”

But the head of the AAPA argues that Congress hasn’t set aside enough money to help ports accomplish all the goals set by Bonner and other homeland security officials.

AAPA Chairman Dick Steinke, executive director of the Port of Long Beach, Calif., told Congress last month (March) that more than twice the monies allocated for Port Security Grants will be needed to help ports meet new federal mandates for increased security. Congress appropriated $93.3 million for the program, but Steinke said more than $222 million will be needed.

Steinke said the grant applications proposed by 52 public ports surveyed by AAPA will range from $100,000 to $50 million. Half of those ports will need at least $1 million, he said. The Transportation Security Agency plans to begin awarding the grants in June.

“U.S. public ports have already spent nearly $50 million for security-related enhancements in the wake of Sept. 11,” Steinke said. “The most money was spent on personnel – hiring new officers and overtime.

Meanwhile in Congress, the House is considering HR3983 – the Maritime Transportation Antiterrorism Act – which calls for domestic and foreign port vulnerability assessments, anti-terrorism teams and development of an anti-terrorism cargo identification system by midyear 2003.