Sometimes it's tough to hear voices of reason above the clamor created by the saber rattling these days. I was reviewing a news release from Chris Corrado, vice president customer service, APL Logistics, when a paragraph caught my eye. Corrado mentions a congressional proposal that would require every U.S. bound shipping container be inspected by U.S. Customs in foreign ports, and another that would require U.S. Coast Guard inspections of inbound vessels 200 miles from U.S. shores.
I enjoy fiction as much as anyone; however, these kinds of proposals go beyond even the unbelievable. They serve only to give certain congressmen publicity. So, to protect the guilty, I'll not mention any politicians’ names.
Let's take a look at the facts. One cannot argue that containers coming into this country are an open conduit for terrorists. Since 1995 the volume of trade moving through our 102 seaports has about doubled. In 2001, U.S. Customs processed more than 214,000 ships and 5.7 million sea containers — out of an estimated 16 million containers that arrive here. Toss in truck and rail traffic and we learn the folks at U.S. Customs processed 25 million entries in 2001.
Whew, I'm working up a sweat just thinking about this. According to testimony at a congressional hearing by Richard Larrabee, director of port commerce for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, Customs physically inspects two percent of the cargo that arrives in the U.S. He estimated that increasing the examination rate to five percent would generate a backlog of 4,500 containers monthly, require an additional 400 inspectors and cost the industry an extra $1.2 million a month.
So, what can packaging professionals do? The Container Security Initiative (CSI) is the program launched by Robert Bonner, commissioner, U.S. Customs. Under the CSI program, a small number of officers are deployed to work with host nation counterparts to target high-risk cargo containers. Its purpose is to protect containerized shipping. To date, 18 of the 20 larger world ports have agreed to join CSI. These 20 ports account for about two-thirds of the cargo shipped to the U.S.
The part of CSI generating the most buzz in the packaging community is the Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism (C-TPAT) initiative. C-TPAT is the joint government-business initiative to build cooperative relationships that strengthen overall supply chain and border security. It recognizes that Customs can provide the highest level of security only through close cooperation with the ultimate owners of the supply chain -- importers, carriers, brokers, warehouse operators and manufacturers. Through this initiative, Customs is asking businesses to ensure the integrity of their security practices and communicate their security guidelines to their business partners within the supply chain.
C-TPAT offers packaging professionals an opportunity to play an active role in the war against terrorism. By participating in this first worldwide supply chain security initiative, companies will ensure a more secure supply chain for their employees, suppliers and customers.
Certainly technology offers more practical approaches to security questions than do Congressmen who suggest checking every container. Projects underway and in use, such as “smart” containers using satellite-based positioning systems, and weight sensors to register when a container is moved or contents added, make more sense (make that cents) than does throwing more bodies into the fray.
Clyde E. Witt, [email protected]