The world is a very different place out beyond the horizon. Even as you read this, there are some 40,000 large cargo ships plying the worlds waterways and oceans, not to mention innumerable smaller merchant craft, all pulling in and out of ports, loading, unloading, changing out crews and cargos, and steaming from one location to the next.
In what can be a very murky world of shadowy ship registry offices, lengthy manifests, and dockhands who change out faster than Barbosas crew, how all these ships come by their cargo, how that cargo is loaded, by what polyglot seamen and in what untamed ports, can be an amazingly scrambled and trackless story rivaling the Pirates of the Caribbean.
Scenario: A single ship starts out in Singapore with containers filled with electronics, passes through Indonesia where it picks up spices, sails to Calcutta to load cotton, Port Said where it boards an Egyptian crew, Piraeus where it stops for fuel, Tangier where it picks up leathers, Scotland where it packs in woolen sweaters, and finally sets sail for Newark, New Jersey. Eleven million containers packed with such goods reach U.S. ports every year.
At any point in a merchant ships journey, pry open container XYZ mid-ocean, and what might you find" When you cant be sure, that spells danger. The possibility that a single container has gone purposefully astray and might now be packed with explosives, or loaded with a virulent biologic destined for our shores, is not a fictional scenario. (In 1988, it was an Al Qaeda merchant ship that delivered the materials needed to bomb U.S. embassies in Tanzania and Kenya. That same ship was never seen again.)
Given lots of time, customs agents could find all contraband. But, in the world of maritime shipping, time is the enemy. Try delaying a delivery, and you may face some rough characters down at the docks (think On the Waterfront). What's more, anything that hinders the
|Contact: Gail Cleere|
US Department of Homeland Security - Science and Technology