Tags: Port | Officials: | Need | More | Money | For | Security

Port Officials: We Need More Money For Security

Tuesday, 29 January 2002 12:00 AM

"I would give high marks to the Coast Guard and Customs. They have been very diligent and cooperative," said James T. Edmonds, chairman of the Port of Houston Authority. "But we need more gear, -- more X-ray machines -- and more personnel."

Houston's 25-mile long port handles more than 78 million tons of cargo a year, more than any other port in the nation, and its sprawling petrochemical facilities make it particularly vulnerable. The busiest cruise port is Miami, where the Coast Guard has also been diligent.

After the World Trade Center and the Pentagon were attacked, security operations were quickly stepped up at the Port of Miami.

"Whenever a cruise ship is arriving or departing or at the pier, a security zone kicks in," said veteran Coast Guard spokesman Luis Diaz. "No other vessel can transverse the area. We have assets (vessels) at each end of the security zone and one in the middle."

He said sometimes they are Coast Guard vessels, and sometimes they belong to local, state or other federal law enforcement agencies.

He said the Coast Guard boards incoming cruise ships on a random basis, and shore patrols have been increased. He said the same procedures are in operation throughout the nation.

"This is considered the largest port security operation since World War II," Diaz said. "It covers 96,000 miles of coast nationwide."

The Coast Guard is also looking forward to what Bush said will be the biggest budget increase in its history.

U.S. Customs is a big player, as it tries to stop terrorists from shipping in explosives and weapons for acts of terrorism.

Customs Commissioner Robert C. Bonner said he is pleased with the effort so far, but more needs to be done.

"I know we are doing a lot to help America become safer against terrorist threats and also in Canada. We are asking more questions and we are conducting more inspections," he said.

Bonner said the United States is about to reach an agreement with Canada to prescreen each other’s cargo shipment.

"It'll give us more time and take some pressure off the borders," Bonner said.

When the agreement with Canada is accomplished, he would like to extend it to other countries, but there are skeptics about using prescreening around the world. Among them is Robert Bray, executive director of the Virginia Port Authority.

"With all due respect, I don't think we can do it," he said. "The size of the task is just too enormous. You cannot imagine the number of places cargo comes from."

Bray is more in favor of using the X-ray type machines but he noted they are hard to come by.

Bonner said he was expecting additional funding for more personnel and more technologically-advanced equipment, especially at the 20 major seaports in the United States. There are 301 ports of entry in the country.

A major problem in spotting explosives and drugs has been container shipments when the trailers from 18-wheel tractor-trailers are hoisted or rolled onto freighter ships and shipped without ever being opened.

Customs is relying more on the VACIS units -- vehicle and cargo inspection systems -- and has about two dozen of them in use at this time. The system at Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale cost $850,000, and they go as high as $1 million.

The mobile unit is the size of a very large pickup truck and looks like a power company repair truck. The one at the Port of Miami is on a crane. Some units use gamma ray imaging technology and some use X-ray technology.

The gamma ray units are newer and more effective. They inspect freight containers on pallets and in trucks, cargo containers, rail cars and passenger vehicles. Agents viewing the gamma ray images on a video monitor can identify voids, false walls or ceilings and other secret compartments used to smuggle explosives, weapons and drugs.

Inspectors searching for stolen or smuggled goods can also use the images to determine whether the cargo is inconsistent with the cargo on the manifest.

At this time they are only used on 2 percent of the cargo coming into the United States. One of the gamma ray units is in operation in Houston, but Edmonds said more are needed.

"The goal is to get to 5 percent of the cargo, which is still pretty low," Edmonds said.

Budget increases may help, however, and there are interesting, although expensive possibilities available along with the VACIS. Many of them would fit on your dining room table.

Some of the gadgets include the Portable Contraband Detector, which is placed on a surface and a narrow beam of energy is emitted into the object. It then detects changes in the space inside whether it is filled with cargo or if it seems to be something else.

The radiation pager is a gamma-ray detector for use in locating nuclear materials. It is hundreds of times more sensitive than Geiger counters.

The ITEMISER System is designed to detect and identify controlled drugs and explosives. The new technology is called Ion Trap Mobility Spectrometry. It sounds an alarm when a programmed substance is detected. It can be used on people, baggage and cargo. It is an improvement on a system that has been in use for 25 years.

Copyright 2002 by United Press International. All rights reserved.

© 2020 Newsmax. All rights reserved.

1Like our page
I would give high marks to the Coast Guard and Customs. They have been very diligent and cooperative, said James T. Edmonds, chairman of the Port of Houston Authority. But we need more gear, -- more X-ray machines -- and more personnel. Houston's 25-mile long port...
Tuesday, 29 January 2002 12:00 AM
Newsmax Media, Inc.

Newsmax, Moneynews, Newsmax Health, and Independent. American. are registered trademarks of Newsmax Media, Inc. Newsmax TV, and Newsmax World are trademarks of Newsmax Media, Inc.

America's News Page
© Newsmax Media, Inc.
All Rights Reserved