In transportation analysis it may be said that passengers are cargo that complains. For the most part regulations can only push passengers so far before they reach a breaking point. Post-9/11 passenger regulations, as administered by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), have meant that our laptops and other large electronic devices are pulled out of their carry-on bags and x-rayed separately. This was implemented on September 13, 2001 when U.S. airspace was re-opened for civilian flights. It is hard to tell if this requirement was, and still is, intended to “look” like something is being done or that isolating laptops in the x-ray process is truly more effective. At any rate, passengers have come to accept this step. They have also come to accept taking off their shoes for separate x-raying as well. This, of course, was in direct response to the “shoe bomber” who tried to detonate explosives hidden in his shoes while on a flight from Paris to Miami on December 22, 2001. Travelers are no doubt relieved that a similar regulation did not follow the “underwear bomber” who tried to detonate his bomb while on a flight from Amsterdam to Detroit on December 25, 2009.
At any rate,
the TSA screens all passengers, starting with the checks on personal
identification. Beyond screening, physical inspection of a passenger may be
random or may result when the body scanner sends a signal to a TSA agent. In
both cases a pat-down or a sweep of the metal and/or chemical detector wand usually
clears up the matter.
In cargo transportation
there is also a distinction between screening and inspection. All U.S. imports
are screened before entry. Depending on the type of cargo and the mode of
transport the screening could start at the U.S. port of entry or as far away as
the foreign port of exit. Just as with passengers, the screening process is a
non-intrusive gathering of information so that a government official can decide
if further action is necessary. Apart from granting or denying U.S. entry, physical
inspection is the next step when warranted by the screening process. So, 100%
of U.S. imports are screened but nowhere near 100% are physically inspected.
About 25 million cargo containers enter the U.S. annually. This is about 48 containers per minute. About 11 million arrive by ocean vessel; another 11 million by truck; and 3 million by rail. The physical inspection of each container would overwhelm ports of entry, add to transportation costs, and end international just-in-time manufacturing.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) physically inspects about 3% of containers arriving by ocean vessel; 24% arriving by truck; and 90% arriving by rail. Screening is a more practical way of managing the trade-off between promoting trade flows while reducing the risks of damage, theft, smuggling and terrorism. Screening is less reliable than physical inspection, but it is a risk worth taking if the screening process is well thought-out. This means gathering relevant data, processing it rapidly, and making appropriate decisions on border clearance.
International transportation has seen many post-9/11 regulatory changes. Two of the most prominent programs are the Customs Trade Partnership Against Terrorism (CTPAT) and the Container Security Initiative (CSI). CTPAT began in November 2001 and CSI began in January 2002. These programs are under CBP control. CSI was designed to move the screening process from the U.S. port of entry to the port of exit in order to give CBP more time to process the information and decide if further inspection is warranted at the U.S. port of entry. CTPAT was designed to offer shippers and carriers the opportunity to partner with CBP by developing an approved supply chain security plan. While CBP reserves the right to inspect the premises of CTPAT members, they are subject to fewer incidences of cargo inspection and offered “front-of-the-line” treatment if they do occur. Currently, CTPAT has about 11,000 members.
But, as with
TSA’s oversight of passengers, some may wonder if CBP’s programs are following
well-defined protocols instead of being simply random and arbitrary. Proper compliance
is based on a shared responsibility between shippers and carriers combined with
CBP in the role of both partner and police. Partner-police rolled into one is a
unique member of the international supply chain that creates opportunities as
well as ambiguities for shippers and carriers.
are more likely to tolerate physical inspection if there is a good reason and
the same can be said for cargo shippers and carriers. Unfortunately, even the
process of physical inspection can uncover breakdowns in partnerships. A case
in point was made by the National Cargo Bureau (NCB), a U.S.-based non-profit
organization that offers training and certifications in U.S. coastal and Great
Lakes shipping activity. NCB specializes in inspecting containerized exports of
To further assist
the ocean carriers that dock at U.S. ports, NCB was taken up on its offer last
summer to inspect a sample of 500 containers. The sample was drawn from four of
the 17 members of the consortium of ocean vessel carriers that comprise the
Cargo Incident Notification System (CINS). Several of the world’s largest ocean
vessel carriers are members and share the mandate of reducing cargo incidents
and, in general, promoting safety along the supply chain. The four companies
chosen were: CMA-CGM, Hapag-Lloyd, Maersk Line and its subsidiary, Hamburg Sud.
Export and import containers of both general cargo and dangerous goods were
NCB performed a “tailgate” inspection, meaning that it handled only the cargo
visible when the container doors were opened. CBP, on the other hand, would have
removed and inspected all the cargo. But even with this low-level inspection NCB
reported that 55% of the sample had one or more compliance problems. Regarding
dangerous goods, problems were found in 69% of the import containers and 38% of
the export containers. The problems included improper securing of the cargo and
inaccurate documentation. The latter is of particular concern, even while the
carriers themselves are focused on preventing onboard cargo fires, because any instances
of inaccurate documentation opens avenues for smuggling related to terrorist
activities. The high-profile fires this year in the cargo holds of the APL Vancouver (January 31) and Grimaldi
Lines’ Grande America (March 12) are
symptoms of a much larger problem in supply chain partnership and regulatory
members are using NCB’s findings to work with their shipper customers to
improve the process of cargo handling and documentary compliance. The shippers
often load and secure the containers themselves before turning them over to
carriers. Also, the documents the carriers are required to present to CBP are
dependent on the accuracy of the information provided by their shipper
customers. Last August some CINS members announced their intent to fine
shippers for any inaccuracies. Currently, Evergreen Line assesses the highest
penalty at $35,000 per container for improper shipper procedures regarding
dangerous goods. It is especially important for carriers to incentivize shipper
compliance because CBP treats the carrier as the first point of contact in the CSI
screening process. Ocean vessels while at-sea are likely under the jurisdiction
of the United Nations’ International Maritime Organization (IMO) given that their
flag is probably from one of the 174 signatory nations.
findings raise a truly international problem which requires a wide international
effort on the part of shippers, carriers and various super-national regulatory organizations.
TSA and CBP are under the umbrella of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security
whose motto is: “If you see something, say something.” NCB has said something.