Mamuni Das

CONTAINER Security Initiative (CSI) compliance adopted by ports can enhance the commercial attractiveness of the ports, according to security experts. They also stressed bilateral and multilateral cooperation for safe maritime trade.

Primarily a US Government initiative to cope up with maritime security threats, CSI involves screening of containers at foreign ports by the US Customs officials before they are shipped to the US.

"On one hand, CSI entails substantial expenditure for hi-tech screening equipment. On the other, if a port is not CSI compliant, exports have to be re-routed through other CSI-compliant ports. This causes delays and even disruptions due to congestion in these ports. The net effect is loss of competitiveness and direct economic losses," said Commander G. S. Khurana, Research Fellow at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA), speaking at a seminar organised by the National Maritime Foundation (NMF).

The Centre has already approved CSI for the Nhava Sheva International Container Terminal Ltd in Mumbai though the modalities are yet to be finalised.

NMF is an institute aimed at creating synergies between various stakeholders and activities in the maritime industry such as port management, disaster control, ship-building, security, and tourism.

The research body was inaugurated by the Defence Minister, Mr Pranab Mukherjee, in February.

Mr Khurana pointed out that CSI compliance would help avoid re-routing of exports to the US. Now, Indian cargo is first moved to Dubai or Singapore for transshipment to the US.

There are 12 CSI-compliant ports in Asia and Colombo would be added in September 2005. Moreover, automated screening would enhance export efficiency as the containers can be screened during the waiting period here rather than wait till they reach American ports.

Additionally, deploying scanning equipment would help improve India's container security for imports, he said.

Indian ports need to have scanning equipment especially in the backdrop of recent incidents where hazardous material have been illegally imported through containers.

Last month, large quantities of arms were discovered in a container that reached Mumbai from Singapore.

Last year, live shells formed part of the metal scrap from West Asia; some exploded in the Ghaziabad area. India must, however, address the fears of the country's intelligence and Customs agencies on the stationing of US officials at Indian ports and their possible interference in port activities and strategic imports, said Mr Khurana.

These fears must be addressed by incorporating codes of conduct in the agreement.

Earlier, Vice-Admiral (retd) P. J. Jacob pointed out that while ensuring "seamless defence to commercial ships is a daunting task," India should move towards increased regional and global cooperation to promote interoperability.

(This article was published in the Business Line print edition dated June 6, 2005)
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