Monday, May 08, 2006

House Approves SAFE Port Bill (SOS is SOL)

The Republican-led U.S. House of Representatives passed by a 421-2 vote wide-ranging maritime cargo and port security legislation, and in the process defeated a Democratic effort to include a requirement that all containers be inspected by radiation and density detectors at overseas ports.

The "Security and Accountability for Every Port (SAFE) Act" includes provisions to strengthen the Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism and the Container Security Initiative, require more advance shipment information for screening, sets an implementation date for the Transportation Worker Identification Credential program and authorizes $400 million a year from Customs revenue for port security grants.

The effort led by Reps. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y. and Edward Markey, D-Mass., to attach the all-scan provision was rejected on a party-line vote. The bill would have required the Department of Homeland Security to set up a system within three years to only allow containers from large foreign ports into the country that had been scanned by non-intrusive systems prior to loading on a vessel. Smaller ports would have had five years to deploy technology to meet the requirement. The bill also required tamper-proof seals that can transmit an electronic alarm be included on every container. The bill was opposed by international container vessel operators, represented by the World Shipping Council, and the marine terminal industry, as well as by large retail importers, because they said the system for such an inspection regime had not been fully tested to ensure the inspection process doesn't cause severe backlogs and delays.

"It appears that House Republicans are more interested in protecting the special interests of shipping companies than protecting our ports from a terrorist attack," Markey said in a statement.

He decried the current analytical approach to selective inspection based on intelligence gleaned from shipping documents and validation of importers' supply chain security plans. "This type of 'screening' is like checking the IDs of airline passengers as they wait in line at the security checkpoint and then waving them right through without making them walk through the metal detector!" he said.

The Retail Industry Leaders Association and the American Association of Port Authorities issued statements applauding the House for the SAFE Port Act.

Meanwhile, the Senate approved an emergency supplemental appropriations bill for fiscal year 2006 that includes nearly $1.25 billion extra for Coast Guard and Customs and Border Protection security programs, as well as $227 million more for the port security grant program.
Let us hope that most of the 70 pieces of legislation, most related to the seriously un-focused Ship Only Scanned containers will be defeated or stagnate in committee. We need to find answers as an industry, and then guide our legislators to craft law that is feasible, based on fact, and functional.


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