New Delhi: An expert group of the shipping ministry has recommended setting up a national agency to oversee port security, warning that all major harbours in India are vulnerable to terror attacks.
This follows a review of port facilities in the country concluded six months ago.
An official who was part of the security review said the most glaring lacuna in the security system at these ports was that only the Jawaharlal Nehru Port Trust in Navi Mumbai had installed X-ray machines to scan cargo containers.
“This is a major cause for concern as countries such as the US and other European nations require inspection of each and every container that enters the country,” the officer said, on condition of anonymity.
There have been instances where suspected terror outfits have sought to test the capabilities of security systems at ports, the official said. For instance, a random inspection of a container at a port in southern India that the official did not wish to identify revealed a cache of toy guns concealed in furniture.
“Similarly, arms and ammunition and fake currency, too, have been seized at some of the important ports in the country,” the official said, without elaborating.
The security review committee, which was formed last year, has recommended the shipping ministry sets up a department on the lines of the Bureau of Civil Aviation Security that would initiate measures to bolster security across ports in the country.
“As of now, the Central Industrial Security Force is in charge of security at the ports and some aspects are covered by the Coast Guard and the Navy,” the official said. “We need one organisation that will take a holistic view and ensure standardization of security procedures at all ports.”
Cold comfort: The review found that among all the country’s major ports, only the Jawaharlal Nehru Port Trust had installed X-ray machines to scan cargo containers, which is seen as a cause for concern. Ashesh Shah / Mint
The shipping ministry has already begun to move on some of the proposals. A shipping ministry official said it has decided to set up scanners at Mumbai, Tuticorin and a couple of other ports. “We will allot land inside the port premises to the customs department to set up the scanners,” said this officer, who asked not to be named. He added that the suggestion of establishing a separate department to oversee security was yet to be taken up.
“Scanning devices are going to prove to be a must in the coming days and we can install these systems without slowing down the pace at which goods need to be moved,” said A.J. Rao, managing director the Indian Ports Association, a body that advises the shipping ministry.
Mint had reported on 31 October that India would soon need to comply with a US legislation—called the Greenlane Maritime Security Act—that requires all ports exporting cargo to that country install scanning facilities. India is also signatory to the International Ship and Port Facility Code—stipulated by the International Maritime Organization after the 9/11 attacks—which requires all member countries to upgrade port and vessel security.
Some 95% of India’s external trade by volume and 70% by value moves by sea. At a growth rate of 18-19% a year, India’s container cargo traffic is estimated to reach 21 million twenty-foot equivalent units, or TEUs, a year by 2016. A TEU is a standard unit to count containers of various lengths and describe container ship or terminal capacity.
There are 12 major ports in India that are administered by autonomous port trusts, except the new Ennore Port, which is registered as a company.