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Port of Charleston pilots secure-port initiatives

Dec. 1, 2005
Charleston Regional Business Journal
By Shelia Watson
Pam Zaresk, Charleston’s port director of Customs and Border Protection, can easily define the tightrope her agency must walk.

“We are charged with preventing weapons, including weapons of mass destruction, from entering the country, while at the same time making sure we don’t choke off trade.”

Speaking to a gathering of the Charleston Women in International Trade earlier this month, Zaresk spelled out the importance of CBP’s mission. “Any time the free enterprise system doesn’t move as it should, the terrorists have won.”

The dimensions

In post-9/11 America, maintaining security, especially in the trade industry, is an enormous endeavor.

Consider the magnitude of the task:

Nearly 90% of international commerce moves by container, with most cargo ships able to carry up to 8,000 containers at a time.

According to the World Shipping Council, more than 100 million containers cross shipping lanes each year.

In fiscal year 2004, nearly 10 million containers entered the United States, and that number is increasing each year.

Every day more than 25,000 containers arrive at the country’s seaports. Of that number, the Port of Charleston receives 1,500 containers every day.

For international trade, these numbers represent prosperity.

For terrorists, they represent opportunities for destructive action.

To protect the global trading system and trade lanes, Customs and Border Protection has developed a series of initiatives, with Charleston piloting or providing training for several of them.

One such strategy is the Container Security Initiative, which CBP Commissioner Robert Bonner said, “extends our zone of security outward, so the American borders are the last line of defense, not the first.”

“I have to give credit to commissioner Bonner,” Zaresk said. “If you’re going to put something in place, you might as well set your sights 10 years down the road, and this initiative is designed to look far ahead. It’s very important to push the borders outward. The last thing you want is to have a threat arriving on the dock.”

Under the CSI program, CBP officers are deployed in foreign countries to target containers that pose a potential threat. Announced in 2002, CSI was first implemented in ports shipping the greatest number of containers to the United States.

The program has expanded to include additional ports in strategic locations. There are 40 CSI ports currently in Europe, Asia, Africa, the Middle East and North and South America. The most recent CSI partnerships include Saudi Arabia, China, Brazil and Sri Lanka.

Bonner noted that, “because of the sheer volume of sea container traffic and the opportunities it presents for terrorists, containerized shipping is uniquely vulnerable to terrorist attack. CSI is one of the most revolutionary and successful security initiatives developed and implemented after September 11, 2001.”

The core elements of CSI are:

• Computerized intelligence.

• Pre-screening at the port of departure of containers that pose a risk.

• Non-intrusive inspection technology, such as gamma- and x-ray machines, used to examine containers.

• Tamper-evident containers for shipping cargo.

Implications for business

In addition to CSI, there are two other components of the overall plan for security. The 24-hour rule requires that advance manifest information be transmitted to customs 24 hours before the shipment leaves the foreign port. The Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism is the customs-to-business element that compares to the CSI port-to-port element of the strategy.

“Partnership is the key word,” Zaresk said. “With C-TPAT, we’re inviting the business community to voluntarily work with us in looking at international trade and how we can reduce vulnerabilities.”

The emphasis of C-TPAT is on self-policing and not on customs verification. In order for both CSI and C-TPAT to work effectively, a great deal of additional measures must be put in place throughout the supply chain.

Such measures could have a significant impact on companies throughout the international shipping industries, including shippers, carriers, manufacturers, importers and retailers. CBP is taking a look at ways to reduce the impact on commerce.

The solutions

“We’ve been working very hard on reducing cycle times on those shipments,” Zaresk said. “A lot of people in business rely on just-in-time inventory. Yet we have to have access to the containers to do a thorough inspection to be certain there are no trade or security violations and get it on its way. We’ve done a lot of tweaking here in Charleston throughout the year, and I’m very pleased to say that our cycle time has gone down considerably.”

Zaresk said inspections are running about two and a half days, compared with more than four days at the beginning of last year.

“Those two days mean a lot to those who are waiting on the containers.”

Zaresk noted that examining every container is not a practical solution. “Anyone who thinks that examining 100 percent of containers means we’ll have a safer world, they need to know it’s not true. It just doesn’t work that way. What it does is cost a lot of money, takes lots of effort, slows down trade—and you’re not getting anything for it.”
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