Hutchison calls for speed on security

PUBLISHED : Friday, 19 September, 2003, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 19 September, 2003, 12:00am

The HK port operator says a maritime system is needed to keep trade moving if there are more acts of terrorism

Hutchison Port Holdings (HPH), the world's No1 port operator, yesterday said the transport industry needed to act quickly and build a security system to keep maritime trade flowing in the event of another major terrorist attack.

Group managing director John Meredith said urgency was the driving force behind the Safe and Secure Tradelanes (SST) initiative, where rapidly emerging 'smart' technologies were put under a microscope last week by a report co-authored by America's leading carriers and shippers.

The report, In-Transit Container Security Enhancement, said there was concern the smart-lock technology promoted by the SST team and others was designed to benefit the creators, rather than the industry as a whole.

Mr Meredith dismissed those suggestions yesterday.

'What we, the port operators, want to do with the SST initiative is kick-start the process of putting in place a system that can address the security issues,' he told the South China Morning Post.

'We don't want the authorities to have another knee-jerk reaction to a 9/11-type scenario that would shut down maritime trade. That is our commercial incentive.'

Among Hutchison's partners in the SST initiative are Savi Technology, P&O Ports, PSA Corp, China Merchants and the United States Department of Defence (DoD).

Mr Meredith said the SST's port operating members, which control more than 70 per cent of global containerised trade, had spent 'tens of millions' kick-starting the initiative.

But he said that did not mean the group saw the present smart-lock technology - which utilises radio frequency 43392, not authorised in China, South Korea or Japan - as the ultimate solution.

'We don't care whose technology is being used; Savi has also acknowledged that,' Mr Meredith said.

'We are open to debate on it and we have no problem with someone else coming up with something similar.'

Stephen Lambright, Savi's vice-president for marketing, said last weekend the controversial 43392 frequency was selected for its 'stability' and because it had a proven track record for the DoD, which used it to monitor military supply chains in wartime.

'Savi is not about promoting 433[92] as a single solution. Solutions will have to be integrated to drive security,' Mr Lambright said.

He was reluctant to disclose the cost to end-users of the present smart-lock because other technology being developed may take its place in the final analysis.

However, he said provisional estimates indicated the existing electronic seal for containers would cost the party sending goods to the United States US$15 to $20 per shipment.

A concern about the focus on smart technologies voiced in the report, co-authored by the World Shipping Council (WSC), the National Industrial Transportation League and the International Mass Retail Association, was their potential to divert attention from land-based container screening infrastructure development.

'We believe that continued enhancement of non-intrusive container inspection equipment availability and technology is critically important, as it answers the question of the most importance, namely: 'What's in the box?' No container can be smart enough to answer that,' the report said.

Mr Meredith said the SST team was aware its system might not suit all the players in the maritime supply chain, but that did not lessen the need to get a better global security system in place quickly.

'We are not pretending to solve the [security] problem for everyone. But that doesn't mean we should abandon the process,' Mr Meredith said.

Carrier executives, particularly from the WSC, had criticised SST for excluding shipping lines from the consultation process.

Mr Meredith said the WSC was invited to get involved in the initiative's early stages, but the council 'was not very co-operative'.

The claim was dismissed by the WSC. 'That is just a smokescreen by the SST to deflate the bigger issues about the purposes, requirements and objectives that security measures and technologies should meet to provide real and tangible enhancement of container security,' one executive said.

Lock up

Currently, a frequency not authorised in China is used

An electronic seal costs US$15 to $20 per container to the US