Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Port Insecurity and Beyond

In August of 2005, the Chinese National Overseas Oil Company (CNOOC), attempted to purchase California-based Unocal Corp., but withdrew their bid at the last minute, citing "regrettable and unjustified" political opposition by the United States. Because the issue became a “national security” matter!

A few months later, Bush administration originally approved Dubai Ports World’s purchase of London based Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Co. (P&O), which gives the Dubai government owned company managerial control over operations at five ports (in Baltimore, NY, NJ, Philadelphia and New Orleans). This actually means giving the management of 24 of 829 terminals at those ports.

But suddenly the issue became number one agenda in the US. It has been turned again into such a national security debate so that Dubai said that “our close ties with the US are important” and backed away from a confrontation with Congress. As a result, DP World has decided to transfer fully the U.S. operation of P&O to a United States entity."

Why “democrats” in the US suddenly have started to raise their voices putting the subjects such as “Muslim hands off our ports”, “protect America”, “homeland security” in front? Aren’t they the same “democrats” who shut their mouths when Afhanistan and Iraq were invaded with no concrete justification and Iran is the target on similar grounds? Throughout history someone’s loss has been someone else’s gain. But to target someone else’s loss as a private opportunity (read Harold Ford) is simply disguisting.

What is normaly not mentioned in the corporate media is the fact that there is already a lot of Arab, including UAE, investments in the US but nobody tells anything about them. See for a short list of investments in a recent Washington Post article. Add those Saudi Prince Al-Waleed, who is the largest shareholder of Citigroup.

Didn’t those countries in the Middle East contribute to a significant portion of the money collected for Hurricanes victims last year? The amount ranged between $5 million from Syria to $100 million from UAE, to $500 million from Kuwait. While, these so called unstable Muslim countries were pouring money for humanity, the biggest ally of the US, Israel, only sent tents! By the way, aren’t half of U.S. port terminals are foreign owned, including Chinese?

Anyway, there are already tons of articles discussing those points. I will focus on PORT INSECURITY FACTS.

According to Defense Horizons No. 7 report by Admiral James M. Loy, “more than 95% by volume of non–North American foreign trade arrives by ship. Approximately 8,000 ships carrying multinational crews and cargoes from around the globe make more than 51,000 U.S. port calls each year. More than 7.5 million containers enter the country annually.”

More specifically, the United States has more than 1,000 harbor channels, 25,000 miles of inland, intracoastal and coastal waterways, serving 361 ports containing more than 3,700 passenger and cargo terminals [source]. Less than 3% of US overseas trade is carried on US flag vessels [source]. Currently close to 9 million cargo containers enter US seaports. [source]

There are several bodies in the US who are involved in port security.

The Coast Guard is the principal maritime law enforcement authority in the United States, as well as the lead agency for maritime security, including port security. Its responsibilities include evaluating, boarding, and inspecting commercial ships as they approach U.S. waters. Under the Ports and Waterways Safety Act of 1972, and the Maritime Transportation Security Act of 2002, the Coast Guard is responsible for protecting vessels and harbors from terrorists, or otherwise subversive acts.

The U.S. Customs and Border Protection has the principal and initial responsibility to inspect cargos. This duty includes inspecting cargo containers that foreign ships bring into U.S. ports, as well as examining and inspecting the crew members and passengers on ships arriving in U.S. ports from foreign ports.

The Transportation Security Administration is yet another agency involved in domestic maritime security. It was created by the Aviation and Transportation Security Act of 2001, whose responsibility includes security of maritime transportation.

But as Lieutenant Commander R. B. Bralliar mentions in this article entitled “Protecting US Ports with Layered Security Measures for Container Ships” published in Fall 2005 issue of Military Law Review, the greatest threat presented by containers is during the foreign port phase because containers loaded onto foreign vessels involve a number of unknown variables:

He concludes with “comprehensive security is impossible, and a system that tries to achieve it would compromise the essential flow of maritime commerce.”

If this is the case and if the US is serious about port security why it has not ratified that revised International Labor Organization (ILO) convention? The US is a party to the ILO, which adopted a convention in 1958 to document seafarers and assist in maritime security and revised it in February 2005.

Is it possible that now the US wants to extend its military bases overseas by creating annexes in foreign ports, in name of security?


At 12:01 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I realize that US public opinion may look 'racist' in rejecting 'unfriendly-looking' foreign companies running their ports or owning their oil companies.
You forgot to mention the way the port affair and even the Chinese oil bid were handled by Bush-who either baldly defended the right of state owned foreign companies to buy US assets or actually tried to cover up the Dubai deal, rather than lobbying congress in the open.

Maybe you assume that americans should behave in a more sophisticated way than people in other countries.

Americans are just like other people--and they don't trust Bush to defend their national interests or his friends either.

Looking out for one's own national interests is normal and healthy. Not doing so is highly suspicious!


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