Sen. Murray marks start of Operation Safe Commerce

U.S. Sen. Patty Murray (D-Washington) on Monday joined officials from the Port of Tacoma and the Port of Seattle, as well as representatives of the companies involved, to mark the start of Operation Safe Commerce, a federal program designed to test and evaluate technologies and techniques to improve the security of containerized shipping.

With $750 billion worth of goods imported annually in more than 6 million containers, Murray said it would be impossible to search every single container that enters the nation.

“That is a haystack that is just too big,” Washington’s senior senator noted.

“Today we are really launching a new era in port security,” Murray said to an audience inside a Port of Tacoma warehouse. The new program will create an “electronic shield around containers that enter our ports every day.”

Some of the technology used to provide security to protect cargo containers was demonstrated for Murray on two containers set up in the warehouse.

Murray was shown a sensor unit that attaches to the container door post. The device can trigger an alert worldwide the moment the container door is opened or otherwise tampered with.

Another unit demonstrated for Murray was one that attaches to the inside of the container and sends a signal via satellite if the door is opened. All the data on the container can be called up on a small, hand-held electronic device.

Even as the beginning of OSC was being celebrated, several container ships were crossing the Pacific, each with the first of several hundred OSC “test” containers. The industry-led program is designed to test and evaluate technologies and define best practices, eventually creating a knowledge base for future international standards when it comes to securing containerized shipments.

“It lays the foundation for a national and international port security regime,” Murray said of the program that is meant to track containers from the point of origin through the supply chain to the U.S. point of distribution. “Ultimately, Operation Safe Commerce will set a new standard in international trade.”

The first shipping containers with security devices are scheduled to reach the shores of the Puget Sound on March 25. These containers, carrying consumer electronics from Malaysia, will be discharged from the Port of Tacoma, where they will be trucked to Target distribution centers in Auburn and Lacey.

This will be the beginning of a steady stream of over 500 containers from Europe, Asia and Central America arriving through late summer at the Ports of Tacoma, Seattle and Oakland.

The Port of Tacoma and the Port of Seattle are partners in nine supply chain projects funded by $27.5 million jointly awarded to the ports by the Transportation Security Administration.

Managed by Pinkerton Consulting & Investigations under contract to the Port of Tacoma and the Port of Seattle, the Puget Sound OSC projects and evaluations are expected to be completed by October.

“Ninety-five percent of world trade trades by ship,” said Timothy Farrell, Port of Tacoma deputy executive director. “It affects everybody.”

Charles Sheldon, managing director of the Port of Seattle, said he was pleased with this effort to improve the safety, security and efficiency of maritime commerce, singling out Murray for her commitment to securing funds for OSC.

The Bush administration initially didn’t want to release the $58 million for the program. Murray said “a pretty intense meeting” helped convince the administration to release funds that had been appropriated by Congress.

Murray noted that air travel was brought to a halt in the U.S. by the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and the resulting devastating effects on the nation’s economy. She didn’t want to see that happen to the maritime industry.

“For obvious reasons, port security was high on my list,” she said.