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Monday, Jul 29, 2002

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Now, Uncle Sam wants to screen export cargo

N.K. Kurup

MUMBAI, July 28

VERY soon, export consignments to the US may have to undergo a pre-loading American security check even after the Indian Customs stamps its clearance.

The US Government may post either its own personnel or agents authorised by it at Indian ports to have cargoes checked even after Indian authorities clear them.

The move by the US, according to Government officials, is part of its efforts to curb the use of the sea route by terrorists. The superpower has imposed several restrictions on movement of goods and also cross-border transfers of money following the September 11 terrorist strike.

According to the officials, the US is proposing to do its own check of export shipments from all over Asia. It already has proposed a similar condition on consignments from Europe and some countries are reportedly agreed to it.

To begin with, the US proposes to make Singapore a hub for such inspection before it puts in place its scanners at every Asian port, a near impossible task. It would mean that any shipment to the US would have to be routed through Singapore for a "terror check." Alternatively, it may appoint agents to undertake such inspection in countries from which it imports large quantities of goods.

Incidentally, the Chairman of the Kochi port is understood to have written a letter to the Shipping Secretary following some parties seeking details of container inspection and screening facilities at Kochi port.

Following the US initiative, the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) proposes to work out a mechanism to inspect containers at loading ports with the help of World Customs Organisation. IMO has already informed its member-countries to examine the proposal, which would be considered at an IMO meeting later in the year.

In addition to cargo screening, IMO is also working on an automatic ship identification system for all ships above 5,000 GRT. Besides, IMO, in consultation with International Labour Organisation, is drawing up a new seamen identification document.

Meanwhile, the Indian Government has sought the views of shipping companies and seamen's unions on the IMO proposals. Last week, Shipping Ministry officials held a meeting with shipowners and unions in Mumbai to discuss the IMO proposals.

"We have to prepare ourselves before IMO ratifies the new regulations," said a Government official. At the IMO Safety Committee meeting in February this year, the member-countries agreed in principle to a draft of measurers to bolster ships' security.

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