Flags of Convenience and Port Security

Outsourcing  our Merchant Marine

This might be a good time to review what we’ve done to our merchant marine since the end of World War II.

We outsourced our merchant marine years ago by registering our vessels under foreign flags and crewing them with dirt cheap third world crews.

Years ago, we outsourced the operation of our ports in the sense we allow foreign companies, some of which have close ties to their governments, such American President Lines, owned by Neptune Orient Lines, which is closely tied to the government of Singapore to run their own operations at our ports.

Astonishingly, China’s COSCO controls Pier J in
Los Angeles harbor, even after Chinese Gen. Xiong Guang Kai threatened to "rain nuclear bombs
on Los Angeles."  Should Los Angeles feel secure? COSCO is owned 100% by the communist Chinese military, and COSCO ships have been deployed in Chinese military exercises and are designated as zhanjian, or "warship." Hong Kong’s Ming Pao newspaper reported that China’s Navy is stepping up its refitting of China’s COSCO ships for use in war. (More Here)

We let outfits like this run their own terminal operations within our port complexes. 

So why would we shoot ourselves in the foot like this?

So we can avoid fees and taxes, environmental laws, safety at sea rules, and strict manning rules. Such things
are anathema to a truly open ship registry, stale policies
that turned once-great maritime nations like the United States and Great
Britain into bit players.

This is the creed in Panama, home of the world’s most famous canal and, since
1993, the world’s biggest ship registry by either of
two measures: number of vessels (13,470 as of June) and gross tonnage (98.1

Open-registry ships have been the bane of the U.S. Coast Guard and comparable
agencies in Europe, Canada and Australia, pulling into
port with misloaded chemicals, decrepit lifeboats and cracked hulls. (Read More)

Foreign Sailors Gone Wild

While a Congressional subcommittee was holding a field hearing on maritime
security issues in the Port of New York and New Jersey on March 26, four
undocumented Pakistani seamen were on the lam somewhere near Norfolk, home
port to a large fleet of U.S. Navy carriers, combatants and support

According to a report in The Washington Post a day earlier, the four were
among 27 foreign officers and crew members cleared by the U.S. Immigration
and Naturalization Service for shore leave from a merchant ship owned in
Russia and registered under the Maltese flag of convenience. The ship, a
chemical tanker, was allowed to depart Norfolk without the missing
personnel, the Post report said.

While ship-jumping by foreign mariners in the U.S. is nothing new, this
incident was significant in the context of last Sept. 11, when the U.S.
came under deadly and destructive attack by Islamic terrorists aligned with
Osama bin Laden and his worldwide al-Qaeda organization. (Read More)

Terrorists in a Container

On December 6, 2001, Senator Ernest F. Hollings testified before the Committee on Governmental Affairs concerning port security.

Hollings related a story about a suspected Al Qaeda member who tried to stow-away inside a sea  cargo container heading for Toronto, Canada.  The container was furnished with a bed, a toilet, and its own power source to operate the heater and recharge batteries. According to the Toronto Sun, the man, who was arrested at a port stop in Italy, also had a global satellite telephone, a regular cell phone, a laptop computer, an airline mechanics certificate, and security passes for airports in Canada, Thailand and Egypt. (Read More)

Sneaky Ships, Sneaky Owners

A Congressional Research Service report (RL31733) found that the lack of transparency in ship registration has been a longstanding concern.  An Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) study on the ownership and control of ships reports that:

Not only does perfect transparency not exist, but in fact anonymity seems to be the rule rather than the exception, and not only is it permitted, but in many cases positively encouraged. This enables terrorists and would be terrorists to remain intimately involved in the operation of their vessels, while maintaining totally hidden, through the use of relatively simple mechanisms that are readily available and legally tolerated in almost all jurisdictions.

Unscrupulous ship owners are known to mask their identity by re-registering their vessels under fictitious corporate names and renaming and repainting their ships.  Ship owners can register their vessels in "flag of convenience" countries which may have lax regulations and require little information from the applicants.  According to press reports, U.S.intelligence officials believe they have identified 15 cargo ships that have links to al Qaeda.

Phony Cargo Documents

A major area of concern is ensuring the integrity of cargo as it begins its transit to the United States from its overseas origin. Point of origin security is necessary because inspecting cargo in the high seas is practically impossible and inspecting cargo upon arrival at a U.S. port could be too late to prevent a terrorist event. The CBP (Bureau of Customs and Border Patrol) analyze cargo information (manifests and bills of lading) to target specific shipments for closer inspection.  The CBP physically inspects only a small fraction of the containers. Ensuring that the container was not stuffed with illegitimate cargo at the overseas port of loading, and ensuring that the cargo information reported to CBP is not fraudulent are all critical challenges in supply chain security.

(Read More)




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