Containerships present unique and particularly complex security challenges, including securing cargo against tampering and theft, monitoring containers through the international supply chain, and protecting against piracy. During its journey through the supply chain, a single container passes through a number of facilities, vessels, and ports, and potentially could be compromised at any of these points by people seeking to transport illicit materials of all kinds. Containers have been used, for example, to transport illicit drugs, people, and illegal weapons (GAO 2009b). While notable progress has been made in increasing port and container security over the past decade, major challenges still remain.
In 2010, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) reported that the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) has made progress in implementing risk management practices at U.S. ports, particularly in conducting risk assessments and evaluating individual threats (GAO 2010). At the port level, the implementation of the Transportation Workers Identification Card (TWIC) by the USCG and the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) in the past 2 years is one of the most significant security developments. The TWIC program requires that all maritime workers undergo background checks and obtain a biometric identification card that allows them unescorted access to secure facilities and vessels. Despite some implementation challenges, TSA reported enrolling 1.1 million workers in the TWIC program, or over 93 percent of the estimated 1.2 million users, by the April 15, 2009 statutory deadline (GAO 2009a). By December 2010, TSA reported that 1.7 million workers have enrolled in the TWIC program and 1.6 million of the printed identification cards were activated (DHS TSA 2010).
Piracy on the seas remains a significant international maritime security concern that impacts all types of cargo ships, including containerships. The United States established a Combined Task Force in 2001 to conduct maritime security operations in the Gulf of Aden, Gulf of Oman, Arabian Sea, Red Sea, and Indian Ocean. This is part of a global effort designated as the Combined Maritime Forces Mission. More than 25 nations contribute naval forces to the global effort against piracy (USDOD, U.S. Navy 2010). The Combined Maritime Forces patrol more than 2.5 million square miles of international waters. The task force's activities focus on piracy deterrence and apprehension of pirates and, on occasion, involve rescuing hijacked ships. On September 9, 2010, for example, U.S. marines boarded a German-owned cargo ship that had been taken hostage by pirates in the Gulf of Aden, successfully rescuing the ship's 11-man crew and capturing 9 pirates (Whitlock 2010). In 2009 and 2010, hundreds of pirates were captured in the Gulf of Aden alone.
In 2009, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (USDHS) Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) implemented its newest maritime security practice, the Importer Security Filing (commonly known as "10+2"), which requires that importers provide 12 shipping data elements 24 hours before a ship arrives (see box 1). The Importer Security Filing requirement is designed to provide additional data to help CBP identify containers that may pose a risk for terrorism (GAO 2009b).
The 10+2 requirements are just the latest in a series of initiatives to secure U.S.–bound freight traveling in containers while in transit. Following the terrorist attacks in the United States on September 11, 2001, the U.S. Congress enacted several critical pieces of legislation designed to reduce the vulnerability of the maritime transportation system to terrorist attack.
The 2002 Maritime Transportation Security Act (MTSA) tasked the U.S. Coast Guard with coordinating all Federal maritime and port-level security planning and incidence response operations. The Security and Accountability for Every Port Act, or SAFE Port Act (2006), required that USDHS work with relevant public and private sector partners domestically and internationally to develop and implement a strategic plan to "enhance the security of the international supply chain" (USDHS 2007). CBP is responsible for ensuring the security of containerized cargo through a number of initiatives (table 11). Through these initiatives, CBP has taken the lead internationally in organizing customs agencies' efforts to develop uniform and enhanced security practices, and has implemented new container evaluation, scanning, and risk management procedures.
The Secure Freight Initiative (SFI) was developed in response to the SAFE Port Act, but the implementation of its goal of using advanced noninvasive scanning technology to scan 100 percent of U.S. bound containers for radiological and nuclear materials has been a challenge. Three foreign ports have participated in the SFI from its operational start in 2007 and two additional ports have since joined the program, but no participating port has achieved 100-percent scanning. Two SFI pilot program ports have ceased participating in the program, citing concerns about the safety of the scanning technology, their inability to allocate port personnel to the SFI program, and negative impacts of container scanning on port efficiency. CBP now plans to implement SFI only at select ports where the risk of terrorism may be higher, complementing the scanning component with efforts to gather additional container information to increase container security. DHS officials recognize the difficulty of scanning 100 percent of U.S.-bound containers by July 2012 as required by law. The feasibility of scanning 100 percent of containers at more than 600 foreign ports remains daunting (GAO 2009b).
In addition to programs by the CBP and Department of Energy at foreign ports, the U.S. Coast Guard also operates a foreign port security program known as the International Port Security Program. Under this initiative, established in 2004, the Coast Guard works with foreign ports to improve overall port security practices to meet the standards of the International Maritime Organization's ISPS (International Ship and Port Facility Security) Code. Through this program, USCG officers visit foreign ports to assess their security practices and assist them in the implementation of best practices for optimal security. However, some foreign ports have resisted USCG's efforts to visit—insisting that they also be allowed to visit and assess the security practices of U.S. ports, which the USCG has allowed (GAO 2010).