Sniffer dogs at ICC symbolise fallout from 9/11

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 10 September, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 10 September, 2011, 12:00am


Meet Xanga and Brandy. The English springer spaniels are emblematic of how the fallout from 9/11 still affects business in Hong Kong even a decade after the twin towers fell.

Born in Australia and brought to Hong Kong when they were a year old, the sniffer dogs are trained to detect substances such as explosives.

They patrol Hong Kong's tallest skyscraper, the International Commercial Centre in Kowloon, home to the likes of investment banks Morgan Stanley, Credit Suisse and Deutsche Bank and the Ritz-Carlton, now the world's highest hotel.

'Once they smell something suspicious or dangerous goods, they will sit next to them and wait for the dog handler to check the item,' the International Commerce Centre's management services office said. The dogs, who have four handlers, patrol the car park, cargo loading area and the building's lobby.

The sniffer dogs have had specialist training and their handlers are required to undergo a four-week course for trainers of British Army dogs. 'So far, no suspicious items have been detected,' said a spokeswoman for real estate developer Sun Hung Kai Properties, which co-developed the building.

Completed last year, ICC comprises 2.5 million square feet of grade-A office, a million sq ft shopping mall called Elements, as well as the 312-room Ritz-Carlton Hong Kong, which occupies floors 102 to 118 and officially opened in May.

An even bigger impact has been felt on Hong Kong's role as a major global logistics centre, which has some members of the industry worried about a threat to the city's competitiveness.

Since September 2001, air cargo security has become increasingly tougher and is set to be tightened further in the next few years as the US imposes additional regulations.

All cargo carried in the bellies of passenger aircraft flying to the US already is screened before departure. Cargo on passenger flights to some other countries is also screened for explosives and other potentially life threatening material.

Moves by the US Congress to extend 100 per cent screening of freight transported in all-cargo aircraft have stalled. But Hong Kong freight forwarders believe it is only a matter of time before the measure is introduced.

Paul Tsui, chairman of the Hong Kong Association of Freight Forwarding and Logistics (Haffa), said: 'We predict it will be implemented within five years.'

The US is also planning to introduce a requirement that would force airlines and freight forwarders to supply detailed information on cargo consignments 24 hours before flight departure.

But the move has been criticised by Haffa and the Hong Kong Shippers' Council who believe the city will lose its competitive edge as the world's busiest air cargo hub if the measure takes effect.

Airlines already must submit cargo manifests to US authorities before long-haul flights land in the US. The 24-hour rule, however, is proving a problem.

Trials using integrators, such as air courier companies UPS and FedEx, are under way, and the pilot programme is expected to be extended next year to airlines and freight forwarders.

Tsui said the scheme would disrupt the supply chain and was potentially a more serious issue than the screening of freight on cargo aircraft.

Sunny Ho Lap-kee, executive director of the Hong Kong Shippers' Council, said the city's two main cargo terminals accept air freight up to four hours before take-off. Ho said the move 'will erode all the advantages' as an efficient air cargo hub.

Likewise, ocean freight operators at Hong Kong's busy ports have been affected. International maritime authorities, including those in the US, launched a raft of initiatives after the September 11 attacks to improve both port and ship security.

At the heart of their concerns was the so-called 'Bomb in the Box' scenario, such as a nuclear, chemical or biological device sent from overseas in a shipping container, which would be detonated either at the entry port or miles inland causing massive devastation.

In one of the first steps, the International Maritime Organisation agreed in November 2001 to develop new measures to upgrade security that were subsequently implemented over the next three years. This included restricting access to port facilities, vetting of anyone who boarded a ship, and the approval of port and ship security plans by the host nation's government.

In Hong Kong, the Marine Department approved port facility security plans for 34 installations including the container terminals plus the Shell and Chevron oil terminals, government buoys and anchorages and the Green Island Cement wharf.

Countries, notably the US, developed their own regulations to ensure the cargo carried inside the shipping container was safe.

This saw the launch of programmes, such as the Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism, by US Customs and Border Protection which focused on gaining a greater understanding of shipping companies, freight forwarders and their customs.

The United States also signed agreements with several jurisdictions, including Hong Kong, to ensure that cargo in containers entering America was 100 per cent screened for nuclear and biochemical weapons before it left the foreign port.

The carrot for ports agreeing to the measure was faster clearance of cargo in the US. The agreement also gave the US the ability to station federal agents in foreign ports, again including Hong Kong, to work alongside local customs personnel to identify suspect shipments.

Further to these measures, the US introduced a requirement in 2003 that meant detailed information about each consignment was to be filed with customs and border protection staff 24 hours before the cargo was due to be loaded onboard ship.

The personnel would then assess whether the cargo should be loaded or left on the wharf before the ship sailed from the foreign port to the US. A similar 24-hour rule took effect on cargo entering the European Union in January this year.


Sniffer dogs can detect the scent of an object such as explosives or drugs this many times more than humans