The measure, the “SAFE Port Reauthorization Act of 2011,” extends anti-terrorism protections designed to safeguard the nation’s critical shipping lanes and seaports from attack and sabotage. Senators Collins and Murray coauthored the original SAFE Port Act in 2005; it was enacted the following year.
“The scope of what we need to protect is broad,” said Senator Collins. “America has 361 seaports – each a vital links in our nation’s transportation network. Our seaports move more than 95 percent of the Nation’s overseas trade and are vital to commerce and the economy. In 2010, U.S. ports logged 57,600 ports-of-call by foreign-flagged cargo vessels, bringing 11 million shipping containers to our shores.
“Because seaports are flourishing, our harbors operate as vital centers of economic activity. This makes them extremely vulnerable targets. As the air cargo plot emanating from Yemen last year demonstrated, terrorists remain committed to exploiting commercial shipments as a way of moving explosives or weapons of mass destruction. An attack on one or more U.S. ports could cause great loss of life and large numbers of injuries; it could damage our energy supplies and infrastructure; it could cripple retailers and manufacturers dependent on incoming inventory; and it could hamper our ability to move and supply American military forces in the fight against terrorism,” Senator Collins concluded.
• the Container Security Initiative that ensures high-risk cargo containers are inspected at ports overseas before they travel to the United States; and
• the Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism, or C-TPAT, that provides incentives to importers to enhance the security of their cargo from point of origin to destination.
The bill would also strengthen the C-TPAT program by providing new benefits, including offering voluntary security training to industry participants and providing participants an information sharing mechanism on maritime and port security threats, and authorizing Customs and Border Protection to conduct unannounced inspections to ensure that security practices are robust. The cooperation of private industry is vital to protecting supply chains, and C-TPAT is a necessary tool for securing their active cooperation in supply chain security efforts.
Further, the bill would extend the competitive, risk-based, port security grants that have improved the security of our ports. The authorization for the next five years at $300 million per year, as included in the President’s budget, is lower than the current $400 million authorization in recognition of the severe budget constrains we face.
The bill also enhances the America’s Waterway Watch Program to promote voluntary reporting of suspected terrorist activity or suspicious behavior against a vessel, facility, port, or waterway. The proposed legislation incorporates protections for citizens from frivolous lawsuits when they report, in good faith, suspicious behavior that may indicate potential terrorist activity.
The legislation also enhances research and development efforts to improve maritime cargo security. The research will examine the use of composite materials in cargo containers to improve container integrity and to deploy next generation sensors.
Finally, the measure addresses the difficulties in administering the mandate of x-raying and scanning for radiation all cargo containers overseas that are destined for the United States by July 2012. Until x-ray scanning technology is proven effective at detecting radiological material and not disruptive of trade, requiring the x-raying of all U.S. bound cargo, regardless of its risk, at every foreign port, is misguided and provides a false sense of security.
Among the groups that have endorsed the legislation: the Retail Industry Leaders Association, the Association of Marina Industries, the National Marine Manufacturers Association, the National Association of Boating Law Administrators, and the American Waterways Operators.