Protecting your assets
Cargotec believes 100% scanning legislation is "not an issue that is going away"
Felicity Landon reports on the drive to find the best container scanning solutions
July 2012 is the deadline set by the US for 100% scanning of US-bound containers in order to identify the possible existence of nuclear materials for weapons of mass destruction. And the chairman of the US House Homeland Security Committee, Bennie Thompson, remains insistent that the measures of bill H.R.1 are fully implemented: "It is vital to our nation's security," he said recently.
The American Recovery and Reinvestment Bill passed by the House of Representatives in January includes a specific $100m appropriation for the purchase of container cargo scanning equipment for seaports.
Troy Thompson, president of Cargotec Port Security (CPS), says that during the course of his ongoing discussions with various parts of the US government on integrating CPS container security technology into spreader, straddle carrier and RTG port equipment, he has not seen any lessening in the government's commitment in this area.
"This is not an issue that is going away," he says.
To achieve 100% scanning of incoming containers, it is expected that more than 600 ports around the world will be required to implement approved container scanning procedures. But few, if any, have firmly decided on the scanning solution they will implement, says Mr Thompson.
"There are three reasons for this. First, the US government is still involved in the process of clarifying the universe of approved scanning solutions. Second, there is a lack of clarity on who will pay for the equipment that will be installed. Third, terminals are still evaluating whether they will use perimeter-located 'portal monitor scanning' solutions, mobile equipment mounted scanning solutions - scanning from the spreader, for example - or a combination of portal monitors and spreader-mounted scanning."
Mr Thompson says that in terms of identification of "approved" solutions, since the passage of HR1 in 2007, efforts have been under way to define what is an acceptable level of container scanning in order to effectively meet the container scanning mandate; to identify the best technical solutions to achieve scanning at acceptably rigorous levels; and to identify the logistical approaches that would be least disruptive to normal container terminal operations.
CPS has spent the past five years developing its own answer - an RTIS (radiation threat identification system) technology platform that can be installed on crane spreaders, straddle carriers or other mobile equipment, such as marine vessels engaged in security operations.
After field evaluations by the US Customs and Border Protection Service, the US Department of Energy Megaport programme and scientists from Pacific Northwest Labs at the ports of Charleston and Tacoma last year, CPS was invited to participate in specialised tests at the Los Alamos Nuclear Testing Laboratory in New Mexico.
Now CPS has just won its first commercial contract - an order from Lockheed Martin for a CPS spreader-mounted radiation detection system.
The equipment purchased will feature the Bromma STS45 separating 20-45 ft telescoping unit, CPS' most popular ship-to-shore spreader model, fitted with its RTIS technology. The system, to be installed and tested at a US port during this year, will scan containers for gamma, neutron and X-ray radiation while the spreader is in transit.
"We are extremely pleased to have achieved our first commercial order," says Mr Thompson. "Terminals need container security solutions that comply with the US Container Security Initiative but which do so without compromising port productivity. At a time when the global economy is undergoing significant strains, we need security solutions that do not add 'an extra security step' in transhipment and intermodal operations, but which perform container scanning in the normal course of spreader operations."
The two primary scanning options for terminals are portal monitors on the port perimeter or scanning via spreaders in the normal course of container loading and unloading operations. Mr Thompson says that while various generations of portal monitor technology are in use in many ports, a complete reliance on port perimeter container scanning could either create a security gap, or reduce operational efficiency.
Transhipment container terminals pose special security challenges, of course, as many boxes are effectively bypassing any terminal perimeter gates and portal monitors because they arrive by sea. There is also the issue of containers sitting in holding areas of any terminal for some time, with the risk of tampering after they have passed port perimeter scanning.
"Solutions that use existing port container handling equipment, such as spreader-mounted radiation detection, offer significant operational advantages for container terminals, and a clear solution to the transhipment security challenge," says Mr Thompson.
"Spreader-mounted radiation detection can be performed during the normal course of spreader operations, without adding an additional security step or undertaking the cost and space required to transport containers to the terminal perimeter or other testing area for the performance of an additional security scan."
Joe Alioto, vice president sales at the west coast US-based VeriTainer, believes crane-mounted scanning (CMS) solutions are clearly the way forward.
The company, which has developed its own VeriSpreader system for radiation/nuclear detection, says recent discussions and announcements within US government, including $15m for continued development this year and $18m in 2010, makes it clear that "CMS is on its way".
In June, the US Committee on Appropriations report urged the Domestic Nuclear Detection Office (DNDO) "to consider additional testing of spreader bar configurations for monitors, including by demonstrating this technology in a port environment, as it understands that there have been significant improvements in the capability of such systems since prototypes were tested in 2008". It urged this work "to proceed apace".
"CMS is flexible and automatic and that is critical," says Mr Alioto. "This economic downturn won't last forever and some day we will be as busy as we were before - and it is flexibility that will win.
"The July 2012 deadline scanning requirement is still unchanged. The industry ought to be planning for this eventuality. From a scanning perspective, CMS addresses all of the 'excuses' in the law that would allow for a time extension."
Additionally, ports have yet to address the issue of resiliency, he says. If a nuclear incident happened in the seagoing container supply chain, the entire system would shut down: "If we agree that the economic slowdown is terrible, let's try to imagine a complete shutdown."
Mr Alioto says one of the biggest problems with land-based portals (LBP) is that they constrain a port's ability to reconfigure operations.
"Each LBP is a choke-point and it costs $300-$500 per lane to move that equipment somewhere else on the port," he says. "Logistics professions are devoted to the notion of continuous improvement - and freight types (transhipment, ship-to-rail, shortsea, etc) may change per terminal. It is critical to success in our sector to be able to respond and adjust quickly and inexpensively."
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