The importance of maritime trade for the North American economy cannot be overestimated. Billions of tons of foreign and domestic goods are transported through U.S. ports each year. 53% of all imported goods reach the United States by ports, and the remaining 25% by land, and 22% by air. If we look at the export of the U.S. goods, the port dominance is also very significant with 38% of all goods transported by sea, 33% by land, and 29% by air (U.S. Department of Commerce, 2012).
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Without the ports, the U.S. trade would lose more than a half of its profits. The United States trades with China, Japan, Mexico, Brazil, and many other countries predominantly with the use of ports. Ports and harbors in the U.S. are not only major trade vehicles of the U.S. economy; they are also responsible for providing employment for major cargo and transfer companies, and hundreds of thousands of workers in coastal areas working at ports or their vicinities.
Taking the importance of ports into account, issues relating to organizing and managing port security become increasingly pressing nowadays. If one were to imagine for a moment that ports in the U.S. stopped functioning, it would not inflict damage only on the U.S. economy, but also on its multiple trading partners and the entire countries’ economies which are heavily dependent on maritime trade.
Historically, the major security issues relating to ports security related to piracy attacks in territorial waters. However the terrorist attacks of 2001 were a paradigm-shifting event that promoted the entire maritime sector to re-consider security system at ports and vessels (Christopher, 2012). With billions of tons transported by the seas and oceans, the security staff is faced with challenging tasks of assuring that the commodities inside the multi-ton containers are safe and may safely leave the ports.
Given the terrorist threats, a thorough checking of vessel’s cargo is recommended, however with tons of commodities transported in thousands of containers daily, lengthy security checks might result in cargo shipment delays and disrupt the shipping procedures. Furthermore, governments have responded to terrorist threats by enacting new security regulations and imposing new cargo inspection procedures and requirements which may also result in increased and prolonged security checks (Christopher, 2012).
The new regulations and heightened security slow down businesses in their daily shipment operations. With this in mind, port security systems are faced with the challenge of enhancing and streamlining the inspection procedures, and incorporating smart technologies or sophisticated equipment which will result in quicker and more accurate inspections.
The threats from terrorism do not emanate only from the explosives that may be potentially hidden in cargo inside the containers. The ports may also become targets for extremists attempting to enter the port premises carrying guns and explosives.
The real danger lies in the fact that there’s a likelihood that the workers employed by the ports, such as dock workers, loaders, secretaries, or even security personal are affiliated with terrorist organizations (Christopher, 2012). The terrorist attacks of 2001 signify the importance of thorough background checks before hiring the staff and giving them access to port’s premises and its crucial infrastructure.
With all the security measures in place, piracy remains a global challenge for the world economies dependent on maritime trade. Worldwide losses caused by the piracy to the international economy range between $7 and $12 billion annually (Christopher, 2012). The piracy threats call for all governments to unite and develop a set of security measures that would allow curbing and tackling them.
There is no doubt that maritime trade is a major artery of the North American economy. In the face of increased threats, the goal of the ports security management is to work effectively and internationally to prevent potential threats and allow the economies to receive added benefit from ports’ infrastructure.
Christopher, K. (2014). Port Security Management. Boca Raton, Florida: CRC Press.
U.S. Department of Commerce. (2012). Maritime Trade and Transportation by the Numbers. Retrieved from https://www.bts.gov/archive/publications/by_the_numbers/maritime_trade_and_transportation/index