July 1 was a significant day for the maritime industry. That’s when ports and vessel owners had to be in compliance with new security mandates.
Our cover story this month (page 38) discusses how ports are handling, or not handling, the government’s security requirements. Has security improved at the nation’s ports since 9/11? Probably. But to ports, big expenditures on security are probably not worth it. That’s because they have bigger worries than how to implement and pay for security mandates passed down by panic-stricken lawmakers — mainly how to stay competitive in the dog-eat-dog world of global trade.
If given the choice of spending $10 million on security or on a new container crane, most port directors would undoubtedly choose the latter. Unfortunately, U.S. port directors don’t have a choice. So, instead of new rail lines at the Port of Los Angeles, sheet pile replacement at the Port of Palm Beach or a new container yard at Port Everglades, funds are being diverted from operations budgets to meet security measures mandated under the hastily approved Maritime Transportation Security Act of 2002.
Passed shortly after 9/11, MTSA is a prime example of terror mania and the resulting overreaction by lawmakers. MTSA is overkill, especially for the nation’s small inland ports and marine facilities. For big ports as well, it’s too much. Security measures such as surveillance cameras, perimeter fencing, and security patrols may look impressive, but how much good will they do? If a terrorist group is determined to disrupt port operations, it will be almost impossible to stop, unless you shut the port down. But then again, just how high up are ports on the terrorist target list? There are probably hundreds if not thousands of more high-profile targets in our country.
Ports are also dreading the inevitable when the government raises the terrorist alert level to orange, grapefruit, peach or whatever. Under the rules that took effect July 1, an increase in the alert level may result in the slowing of trade and, in some cases, the closure of some port operations.
Unfortunately, cooler heads have not prevailed in the planning of maritime security, and U.S. ports are stuck with unfunded government security mandates that will do nothing to help make them more competitive.