Very murky indeed!

In a Press Release dated 23-Aug-2007, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) stated:

“The world is a very different place out beyond the horizon. Even as you read this, there are some 40,000 large cargo ships plying the world’s waterways and oceans, not to mention innumerable smaller merchant craft, all pulling in and out of ports, changing out crews and cargos, and steaming from one location to the next.

“In what can be a very murky world of shadowy ship registry offices, lengthy manifests, and dockhands who change out faster than Barbosa’s crew, how all these ships come by their cargo, how that cargo is loaded, by what polyglot seamen and in what untamed ports, can be an amazingly scrambled and trackless story rivaling the ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’.

“Scenario: A single ship starts out in Singapore with containers filled with electronics, passes through Indonesia where it picks up spices, sails to Calcutta to load cotton, Port Said where it boards an Egyptian crew, Piraeus where it stops for fuel, Tangier where it picks up leathers, Scotland where it packs in woolen sweaters, and finally sets sail for Newark, New Jersey. Eleven million containers packed with such goods reach U.S. ports every year.

“At any point in a merchant’s ship journey, pry open container XYZ mid-ocean, and what might you find? When you can’t be sure, that spells danger. The possibility that a single container has gone purposely astray and might now be packed with explosives, or loaded with a virulent biologic destined for our shores, is not a fictional scenario …

“Given lots of time, customs agents could find all contraband. But in the world of maritime shipping, time is the enemy. Try delaying a delivery, and you may face some rough characters down at the docks (think ‘On the Waterfront’). What’s more, anything that hinders the swift transit of goods around the world can have a rippling effect on the world’s economy …

“‘A serious threat is posed by the cargo that containers may hold,’ says Vinny Schaper, SBIR Program manager. ‘We have to view the ocean with grave concern, and realize that a maritime attack is not beyond the realm of possibility and if it comes, it will probably involve the use of merchant ships. Eleven million containers a year are brought onto our docks. Interrupt this with a terrorist attack, and the backup would reach around the world.’”

Note: SBIR is the DHS’s Small Business Innovation Research program that has just contracted with the California-based firm that developed a GPS tracking system which can be affixed to a container. This firm is one of the 33,883 new security firms that have sprung up in the last half-dozen years. A lot of taxpayers money will be spent for this item, and its use will no doubt be widespread, but it won’t produce the results needed to calm our fears. It’s not supposed to, and the “White House” has already said as much. It’s a “business of fear”, remember. And besides, our lawmakers and the maritime industry are engaged in a very convenient tug-o‘-war over this questionable issue.

Tug-o’-wars and contradictions … that’s all we’ve been getting from U.S. officials.

On the one hand we hear that “the specter of a nuclear bomb, hidden in a cargo container, detonating in an American port has prompted Congress to require 100 percent screening of U.S.-bound ships at their more than 600 foreign starting points”.

“If a terrorist manages to conceal a weapon of mass destruction in a shipping container, it must be discovered long before that container reaches our shore,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in support of the measure.

Rep. Edward Markey, D-Mass., said the costs and complexity involved in the new system pale beside the devastating effect of a nuclear attack launched from a big city port. “The truth is, we cannot afford not to do it”, he said, pointing out that the estimated cost of a disruption of U.S. operations by a terrorist attack could reach $ 58 billion.

On the other hand we hear that “the White House and shippers maintain that the technology for scanning 11 million containers each year doesn’t exist, and say the requirement could disrupt trade”.

Opponents warned that it could cause huge backlogs at the nation’s seaports, which handle some 95 percent of goods coming into the country. Industry groups that lobbied against the 100 percent screening asked whether Congress intends to cut off trade with small-volume ports that can’t install the needed technology. They also warn of foreign governments retaliating by requiring U.S. ports to set up the same inspection regimen.

“You have to have the permission of all these foreign ports,” said James Carafano, a defense expert at the Heritage Foundation. “There are a lot of people around the world who are really going to be teed off about this.”

In a statement strongly opposing the scanning requirement, the White House stated that the scanning requirement was “neither executable nor feasible”.

Well, which is it? Should we continue to spend billions on what we know to be unattainable?

• Vinny Schaper, the DHS SBIR Program manager says a maritime attack is not beyond the realm of possibility, would probably involve the use of a merchant ship, and the backup would reach around the world.
• The DHS is costing, and spending, billions of taxpayers dollars, all while headquarters ( the White House) is saying that 100 % screening is “neither executable or feasible”.
• “ … the murky world of shadowy ship registry … polyglot seamen … untamed ports … rough characters down at the docks …” all cited in the DHS press release provides a description of some of those “who hate our freedoms”. Our leaders, however, by arranging for scanning and inspection to be done in (600?) overseas ports, have placed the well-being of all U.S. citizens in the hands of those “who hate our freedoms”. Could anything be more asinine?

The solution? All scanning should be done by U.S. seamen aboard our patented container ships!