Policing the port

Published 4:00 pm Monday, September 3, 2012

Containers are X-rayed at Norfolk International Terminals. Customs official Sean Neely said that an image of inside the container comes up on a screen in the cabin. Each image takes one to five minutes to analyze. Two to three percent of containers are X-rayed.

The 15 container stacks at APM Terminals Virginia in Portsmouth, each close to 1,700 feet long, stacked high with cargo from all corners of the earth, represent a lot of risk factors.

The Western Hemisphere’s most technologically advanced marine cargo facility’s 110 to 120 workers refer to the multi-colored containers as “boxes,” and each box potentially could hide a terrorist group’s weapon of mass destruction or a drug cartel’s shipment of cocaine.

It’s a scenario those living in subdivisions on the opposite side of the Western Freeway, the closest perhaps half a mile from the facility, may or may not be concerned about.

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But it’s one that many others spend their working lives considering.

According to Louis Rossero, a U.S. Customs and Border Protection public affairs liaison at the Port of Virginia, all container and bulk cargo leaving APMT and, on the other side of the tunnel, Nofolk International Terminal, is scanned for radiation.

Shipments departing via rail — 10 percent of total cargo volume at APMT and 25 percent at NIT — are scanned on the terminals before being loaded onto trains, Rossero wrote in an email. Cargo trucked out is scanned with RPMs, or Radiation Portal Monitors, at exit gates.

All boxes give off some level of radiation, and these scans check for anomalies that could indicate something sinister.

About two percent of boxes are also X-rayed, Chief Customs and Border Protection Officer Sean Neely told reporters on the ground at NIT last month. On any given day, 20 to 30 of the procedures are performed at the facility, he said.

“If we do find something that we don’t think looks right, our officers will send it to the container examination station at Greenbrier,” Neely said.

Rossero wrote that 10-15 percent of X-rayed containers are ultimately sent to this facility, called the Central Examination Station.

Additionally, Rossero wrote that law requires “high security bolt seals” on all containers, and a compromised seal can indicate a tampered shipment.
“CBP charges nothing for inspection of cargo,” Rossero wrote. “There are charges associated with moving the container from one place to another place by the terminal and for the stripping of containers,” which are billed to the importer by the terminal and the contractor in Greenbrier.

“CBP’s primary goal is the prevention of terrorism and to expedite legitimate trade using risk management tools to focus on shipments that are determined to be high risk,” he wrote.

While Customs and Border Protection is responsible for international cargo and immigration, the Virginia Port Authority’s jurisdiction is security on terminal facilities, including cargo and people, according to its deputy executive director of operations, Jeff Florin.

The VPA Port Police is a “fully certified state sworn police department” of 26 actual port officers and about 70 contracted security sentries, Florin wrote.

“The port police maintain a patrol team on both NIT and APMT, and conduct random patrols of our other facilities,” had added.

“The contract security maintains all access control points and works under the leadership of the port police chief.”

Additionally, Florin wrote, the U.S. Coast Guard is responsible for “the maritime region, including the ship and crew.”

Bolstering all those sets of eyes, the authority also maintains an “extensive” CCTV system, Florin wrote. Motion, day, and night cameras are trained on the perimeter fence, gates, plus “sensitive areas and strategic cargo handling zones.”

“The system is used regularly to determine activity and has been used in civil and criminal cases,” Florin wrote.

Joe Ruddy, executive vice president and chief operating officer of Virginia International Terminals, Inc., operator of the terminals, said APMT typically has 110-120 employees on the ground, while the larger and less automated NIT has 280 to 300 workers.

Port workers undergo extensive background checks under the Transport Security Administration’s Transportation Worker Identification Credential program, and Florin wrote that the port is switching over to a biometric entry system, which would scan physical characteristics for entry.

“Obviously, using biometric entry will improve security, as an individual would not be able to use a fraudulent credential and does not require 24/7 manpower to verify entry,” he wrote.

Florin described the range of offenses at the port as “broad, from minor to very serious.”  Recent incidents, he wrote, include failing to cooperate with vehicle inspections, an individual who resisted compliance with terminal requirements, an “altercation” involving two individuals, and “an individual using a fellow worker’s ID.”

“Action taken depends on the given situation and can range from (being) denied work for the remainder of the day to longer, including permanent loss of access to the terminal,” Florin wrote.

Security issues are discussed at quarterly Area Maritime Safety Committee meetings, led by the Coast Guard and FBI and also attended by federal, state, and local law enforcement and emergency services personnel.

“A review of ongoing threats and upcoming significant events are discussed, such as Opsail,” Florin wrote.

“Additionally, the group invests time in planning and preparing for security incidents through exercises and drills.”