As the government grapples with ways to bolster security at India’s ports in the wake of the recent terror attacks in Mumbai, it might be useful to look at how the US responded to the 11 September 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center, rather than bickering over who should have the authority to buy, install and operate equipment for scanning cargo containers arriving at or departing from the country’s shores.
Following the twin tower attacks, the US swiftly persuaded the International Maritime Organization (IMO)—the United Nations agency responsible for maritime safety—to adopt a convention to tackle terrorist strikes launched from the sea. Thus was born the International Ship and Port Facilities Security Code (ISPS Code) that came into force from 1 July 2004—a framework prescribing minimum security requirements for ships, ports and contracting governments.
The US went a step ahead and introduced the 24-hour advance manifest rule. Accordingly, carriers undertaking shipments to the US must submit manifest details to the US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) 24 hours before a ship arrives at the port of loading anywhere in the world. A manifest is a document that lists all cargo carried on a specific voyage.
Upon screening of manifest data received, US customs then advises the carrier on whether or not the cargo can be allowed into that country. Only if customs feedback/response is positive, can the cargo be accepted on board a ship. Under no circumstance would the carrier be allowed to load cargo if a manifest filing is rejected by the US customs.
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Canada has also implemented the 24-hour advance manifest rule, while it will come into force in China from 1 January. The European Union, too, is considering such a move.
The US tightened the 24-hour advance manifest rule last month through a new 10+2 requirement that mandates maritime cargo carriers and US importers to submit additional data to CBP 24 hours before a ship sails with container cargo destined for that country.
In order to comply with the new rules, it is the responsibility of the US importer to provide the names and addresses of the manufacturer, seller, cargo consolidator, buyer, location where the container was stuffed, country of origin, delivery location, importer number, consignee number and the harmonized tariff schedule. The new rule, published in the federal register on 25 November, requires ocean carriers to submit a vessel stow plan and container status not later than 48 hours after the ship departs the last foreign port.
These elements give CBP significant additional information about the parties involved in the commercial transaction on both the buyer and seller sides, as well as additional information on chain of custody (who has possession of the cargo during the logistics/transportation process) and the current location of the goods. The 10+2 rule will take effect on 26 January, with a compliance date of 26 January 2010.
The US has also enacted the GreenLane Maritime Cargo Security Act that requires all ports exporting cargo into that country to install equipment that can scan every single container before it is put on a ship. This law will take effect from 2012.
India has implemented the ISPS Code only at 12 Union government-owned ports and some 51 ports out of the 200-odd owned by the states. The remaining ports are not ISPS-compliant as there is no trading to or from these ports.
According to Indian rules, the captain of a ship entering the country’s exclusive economic zone some 200 nautical miles (370km) from the coast has to inform the navy and the Coast Guard about the details of the ship and the cargo on board. But this requirement is not being enforced fully because the implementing authorities don’t have the wherewithal in terms of equipment and personnel to cross-check the veracity of the report received from the ship’s captain, making ports and harbours vulnerable to terror strikes.
The US, the world’s biggest economy, can afford to put the onus on exporting countries to scan all cargo containers before they are placed on ships. India, with just a 1.2% share of the global trade, simply can’t dictate such terms.
Scanning equipment has become a necessity in the wake of the Mumbai attacks, launched by terrorists who landed in the city on board a hijacked trawler. It will also become a compulsion from 2012 if India wants to trade with the US.
The time has now come for India to, at the least, insist on submission of 24-hour advance manifest in respect of imports. Of course, a bureaucracy that cannot resolve the simple issue of authority over scanners—an issue more important for them than the security for which the scanners are required—can hardly be expected to be capable of even recording advance intimation, leave alone verifying it.
To begin with, shipments originating from suspected arms exporting areas could be taken up under the 24-hour advance manifest rule. Can the members on the board of Jawaharlal Nehru Port, India’s biggest container port located at Nhava Sheva near Mumbai, propose this in their next meeting as a priority item?
P. Manoj is Mint’s resident shipping expert and writes on issues related to shipping and logistics every other Friday.
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