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Senate Committee Holds Hearing on Port Security

07/22/2010 -The Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee held ahearingyesterday to discuss current port security initiatives and explore whether the SAFE Port Act of 2006 should be reauthorized in its previous form or should be altered to address additional security issues.

Committee Chairman Sen. John D. Rockefeller (D-WV) said that he plans to introduce legislation that will reauthorize key provisions of the SAFE Port Act. Specifically, the bill will reauthorize grants for port security and will focus on securing small vessels, hazardous cargo, and the global supply chain. However, he will consider testimony offered at the hearing before finalizing the bill.

Alan Bersin, Commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) in the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), testified on his agencies' use of multilayered screening techniques to identify potentially dangerous cargo before it gets to U.S. ports. For example, Bersin discussed the CBP’s security filing initiative under which it obtains shipping and manifest information from vessels arriving from foreign ports. Under the initiative, ships must provide basic cargo information 24 hours prior to landing and a vessel stow plan—which includes information such as container contents, hazmat records, and port of discharge—48 hours after departure from a foreign port. Bersin also pointed out the agency’s Container Security Initiative, under which CBP identifies and inspects high-risk cargo bound for the United States before it leaves a foreign port.

(For prior coverage of CBP's attempt to screen cargo containers at foreign ports, see "CBP Examining More Cargo, Says GAO.")

However, Bersin told the committee that the Secure Freight Initiative (SFI), under which all containers from foreign ports must be scanned for nuclear and radiological materials before being loaded on U.S.-bound ships is unlikely to be underway by the 2012 deadline. “Deploying SFI-type scanning equipment would cost about $8 million per lane for the more than 2,100 shipping lanes at more than 700 ports around the world that ship to the United States,” explained Bersin. “On top of these initial costs, operating costs would be very high. These include only DHS expenses, not the huge costs that would have to be borne by foreign governments or industry.”

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