Maritime Security

Article excerpt

MOST FOREIGN TRADE IN THE UNITED STATES IS TRANSPORTED BY WAY OF MARITIME SHIPPING, MAKING THIS INDUSTRY A KEYSTONE OF THE U.S. ECONOMY. IN AN AGE OF SEVERE TERRORISM RISK, SECURING THE NATION'S MARITIME SHIPPING IS A MAJOR CONCERN, ONE THAT HAS BEEN NOTED REPEATEDLY BY THE MEDIA, POLITICAL FIGURES AND BIJSINESS LEADERS. AND WHILE U.S. MARITIME SECURITY HAS INDEED MADE NOTEWORTHY FORWARD PROGRESS OVER THE LAST FOUR YEARS, MUCH WORK IS YET TO BE DONE

When viewed in the broadest sense, maritime security in the United States can be considered strong. On the micro level, however, many large cargo ships still experience a fair amount of "shrinkage"--the term used to define missing, lost or stolen goods--at seaports around the country. The trafficking of illegal cargo is also a continual problem that is most often associated with drugs, but it can also include illegal aliens, weapons and any number of other more innocuous commodities.

In reality, such activity has always had a negative economic and operational effect on the maritime shipping industry, but by-and-large, these issues have been marginalized, and there are few who would honestly expect to see such illegal actions removed from the industry entirely. Most everyone finds such behavior reprehensible, of course, but they would also agree that this is a relatively un-avoidable consequence in an industry that handless-even million containers per year in the United States alone.

But the goal at each seaport is always zero tolerance when it comes to all illegal activity, and preventing this type of crime is what was traditionally meant when referring to port security and cargo protection.

Then came September 11.

"Until 9/11, maritime security meant preventing smuggling, theft, illegal aliens and drug trafficking," said former CIA Director James Woolsey at this year's annual Maritime Security Expo in New York's Jacob Javits Center. "But now that we have seen our own infrastructure used against us, the stakes have changed and seaport security has become a whole new world."

Preventing shrinkage, drug trafficking and illegal immigration are all still obvious priorities for any port, but these crimes have dropped down on the priority scale in lieu of every security operation's new number one priority--preventing terrorism.

"The last time prior to September 11 that our own infrastructure was used against us by a foreign enemy, was when the British burned down the White House in 1814," said Woolsey. "And it is largely because of this perceived safety that became ingrained over our history that virtually none of our infrastructure networks, including maritime security, were developed to protect against intentional interference, namely terrorism."

But that is changing. For over four years, the U.S. shipping industry has been striving to reform its ingrained inadequacies. But is it enough?

Legislative and Regulatory Efforts

It was not long after September 11 that the maritime shipping industry realized that it too was potentially vulnerable to an attack in which its own infrastructure could be used against itself. And like changes affecting all other aspects of transportation and interstate trafficking, Washington and the newly formed Department of Homeland Security soon began work on their goal of "implementing an integrated and collaborative process among international, federal, state, local and private partners to protect our ports and maritime infrastructure by gaining the greatest intelligence about the people, cargo, and vessels operating in our waters and ports."

Another important component was that, while security and crime prevention was clearly the goal, any measures that would be implemented could not come at the expense of the shipping industry's livelihood. At the time, it was estimated that 90% of all of the world's cargo was moved on container ships and that nearly half of all cargo that entered the United States came by sea. …