Want to get into a supposedly secure port area? Just hitch a ride.
That’s what The Seattle Times found when a staff reporter bummed rides with truck drivers he had never met to enter shipping terminals in Seattle and Los Angeles-Long Beach, according to an article published Tuesday.
In a first-person account, Alwyn Scott wrote that only once was he asked for identification, at Terminal 18, the largest container dock in Seattle, and a uniformed guard waved him through the gate after he flashed an expired driver’s license.
Port of Los Angeles Police Chief Ronald Boyd conceded to The Times that there are few measures to keep out stowaways in trucks, or even a container packed with dynamite.
“From the land side, everything pretty much moves freely and unobstructed,” Boyd said.
In one effort to improve security, a new federal driver identification system is planned over the next two years.
To date, though, port security efforts have been focused more on goods and ships entering the United States by sea than on trucks carrying goods and empty shipping containers two and from the docks, officials said.
In congressional testimony last year, Coast Guard Rear Adm. Craig Bone said, “we must know and trust those who are provided unescorted access to our port facilities and vessels.” According to a maritime coalition that includes the ports of Seattle and Tacoma, that’s “a vital missing link in the chain of maritime security.”
The Times reported that port guards fail to check a truck’s “condo,” a sleeping area behind the cab that could accommodate half a dozen men with equipment.
Scott wrote that on one sunny Saturday in Southern California, he readily got a ride from an immigrant driver with a blue Freightliner at a filling station near the Pacific Container Terminal at Long Beach, part of the nation’s largest port complex.
“I hid in the ‘condo,’ behind a curtain. But I didn’t need to,” he wrote. “No guard was visible on duty.
“The driver picked up a black telephone receiver attached to a stainless-steel column. He gave his driver’s license number and the number of the container he wanted to pick up.
“A printed ticket popped out, like at a parking garage.”
Once inside, they had unescorted access to a 256-acre complex of stacked containers, cranes and trucks with cargo ships tied up at the side of the terminal.
Moving around would be even easier when dock workers are on breaks or at shift changes, said Michael Mitre, port security director for the International Longshore and Warehouse Union.
“People coming off a ship could get in the cab and hide, or they could come into the terminal in the (truck’s) cab and get on a ship,” Mire said.
Leaving the terminal, Scott wrote, the truck passed through a radiation monitor designed to check for material that could be used to make a so-called “dirty” bomb using conventional explosives to spread radioactive material over a wide area.
By the end of the year, according to the Department of Homeland Security, two-thirds of the shipping containers leaving ports will be checked by such monitors. Currently about half are – and there is no such check on containers arriving by land or any plans for one.
In Seattle, Scott wrote, he sat in the passenger seat while riding into two terminals with another immigrant trucker he had only just met, and during two hours in supposedly secure areas no one asked who he was.
The driver, who said he had worked in the United States for 11 years, said he believed the ports are secure – “very, very, very” – then paused and added, “compared to before.”
Until changes were made in the wake of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the driver said, guards didn’t always ask for a driver’s license.
Port officials in both cities, informed of the reporter’s experience, said they would see what could be done to keep out unauthorized persons.
“This terminal should have had much better security,” said Art Wong, a spokesman for the Port of Long Beach. “This is something that we’re going to have to take a look at.”
Most ports, however, lease terminals to private operators, who then develop security plans subject to Coast Guard approval.
Bob Watters, a vice president at SSA Marine, formerly Stevedoring Services of America, which runs Terminal 18 in Seattle and Pacific Container Terminal in Long Beach, said he didn’t know what more the company could do.
“We’re doing exactly what’s prescribed by the Coast Guard,” Watters said.
Information from: The Seattle Times, http://www.seattletimes.com