Sleepless In Oxnard

Every now and then we run across a story published in an overseas journal that warrants a second look and a second guess. The Malaysia Business Times carried such an item earlier this month, and the title told us nothing that we didn’t already know:

“Boxships: Achilles’ heel for security”

In the article, Dr. Vijay Sakhuja, a senior research fellow at the Indian Observer Research Foundation, issued a warning that container ships’ vulnerability to terrorism make them the ‘Achilles’ heel’ of the supply chain, and that governments and industries needed to secure technology to combat the threat of containers being used in terrorist attacks.

“Maritime security is technology-intensive and thus, there is need to harness technology for a safe system of commerce, and build a comprehensive and credible approach to the security of the maritime chain,” he said.

In addition to his views on the vulnerability of container ships, Mr. Sakhuja said that seaports were the weakest link in the container transport chain and that the likelihood that terrorists would attack ships both in harbor and at sea was very real.

A few days later, from Port Hueneme in California came the report that eight stowaways from Ecuador were hidden aboard the “Malaga Carrier” for as long as 10 days, and were not apprehended until five of the group were discovered walking down the vessel’s gangplank. The other three men, who had been hiding in the operator’s cab of the ship’s crane, were taken into custody when they were in plain sight walking on deck.

Even after authorities were tipped-off and conducted a search of the ship on Sunday, they found nothing. It wasn’t until 8 a.m. on Monday that the five men were seen strolling down the gangway. A second search was conducted by immigration, customs and Coast Guard agents who then spotted the other three walking along the deck.

These stowaways are unsophisticated vagabonds, and still they managed to penetrate the DHS cordon. What about those with some degree of sophistication? Is it possible that none have been discovered because none have attempted passage? Or is it more likely that many, many have gained access because we’re not sharp enough to apprehend them. [How many people are on the payroll of the DHS? 170,000? And they can’t catch stowaways?]

Ronald Boyd, chief of police for the Port of Los Angeles was asked what measures were in place to stop stowaways – or a container packed with explosives – from getting into a port. “Not much,” he said. “From the land side, everything pretty much moves freely and unobstructed.”

[Sleep tight tonight.]