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Box Scan Dilemma Rumbles On

By March 27, 2015No Comments

March 2015
Original article from World Cargo News (pages 48-49)

The desire for a mandatory global programme of seaport container scanning remains strong, but is yet to be fully implemented

customs picture from World Cargo News - March 2015
The drive towards some form of non-intrusive container inspection/scanning to be adopted universally by seaports around the world has been in progress for many years. It has long been viewed as the only foolproof answer to terrorists looking to target the global transport chain and to tackling the smuggling of narcotics and contraband, which continues to result in substantial lost revenues to governments through duty evasion. The necessary ‘non-intrusive’ technology – which has, to date, been centred mainly on x-ray imaging and nuclear detection – has been available commercially for over two decades and is increasingly commonplace.

As far back as 2006, The US SAFE Port Act was calling for a future mandatory screening of all maritime freight containers des¬tined for US ports, in order to identify all conventional and nu-clear threats, with the implemen¬tation date initially set for mid-2012. However, this has since been delayed by the US Congress, first by two years until mid-2014 and then by another two until 2016, due to impracticalities connected with its enforcement – and particularly in the light of budgetary cuts made in more recent years. The reason for the postponement has been put down variously to the high costs associated with the relevant technology, a lack of support from foreign partners and attendant logistical difficulties. One recent report issued by the US Government Accountability Office (GAO) indicated that significant public funding has already been outlaid by the US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) on various cargo screening initiatives, yielding little benefit, and that the number of inbound containers undergoing any form of automated scanning is still very low, at just 4% of the total entering the country.

Nevertheless, the topic remains a potent one within the US, as renewed efforts have been made in the past year to revive the intent of the original Bill, albeit by way of a different approach. In September 2014, a new piece of legislation was introduced that would require the testing of 100% scan equipment at two major US ports. The (Scan Containers Absolutely Now) Act was proposed by Janice Hahn, a Californian democrat whose district includes the port of Los Angeles. It is intended to show conclusively that existing sca¬ner technology is effective and so promote its fuller adoption so that “100% of shipping containers passing through all US ports can be determined as safe”. The pilot programme associated with the new legislation has authorised an expenditure of up to US$30M, and briefings have already been held with a number of companies producing scanner systems.

Harnessing muons
One participant of note is Decision Sciences International Corp (DSIC), which – in contrast to the more traditional focus on x-ray based machinery – has instead opted for a completely new concept, using Muon Tomography, to analyse the contents of a container in detail. The company’s Multi-Mode Passive Detection System (MMPDS) has been under development for 10 years and been extensively and successfully tested at Freeport Bahamas. Muons are high-energy neutrons that occur naturally, as they are generated cosmically in space and, in a single minute, many thousands pass through every object on Earth. This background provides the source for MMPDS, as the particles are highly penetrative and able to give a very detailed description of any material they pass through. Special detectors have been developed by DSIC to cap¬ture the profile as a readable image.

This month DSIC received an important contract from the US Department of Defense (DoD) Combating Terrorism Technical Support Office (CTTSO) to build a new type of portable-electronics scanner for threat detection. Valued at US$2.2M, the contract is for an integrated prototype product to detect explosive material. While this is a different application to container scanning, the contract is important for the commercialisation of DSIC’s MMPDS technology.

MMPDS is proving attractive because of its more passive operation (when compared with the generation of high-energy x-rays) and very good imaging clarity. It is already being cited – in both governmental and commercial circles – as another potential long-term solution to the whole screening issue, once the technology becomes more assessable and cheaper.

X-ray popularity
In the meantime, the more established use of x-ray imaging remains a popular, and increasingly flexible and cost-effective, approach. Its enhanced availability is underpinned by several established producers of the technology, all of which have been active for many years.

One current leading participant is China-based Nuctech Company Ltd, which has, to date, supplied security inspection hardware (utilising x-ray imaging) to both state-controlled and commercial end-users located in more than 130 countries. A sizeable proportion of this equipment has gone to seaports/terminals and border crossings, where it is used to monitor container traffic flows. Nuctech has been in commercial production for almost 20 years, following a period of initial research carried out at the University of Tsinghua. One of its more recent additions is the MB1215HL, a fully re-locatable container scanner. Launched in 2012, this model is typical of many newer-generation units, in that it is compact, self-shielded (thus requiring no additional radiation protection barriers) and able to offer a rapid and efficient throughput at all types/sizes of terminal. Crucially, it is priced relatively competitively compared with the fixed-site alternative. In more recent years, the Chinese company has also developed its own range of sensors suited for the detection of trace nuclear materials.

Nuctech machinery has scored a particular success in routing out illegal consignments, be they narcotics/cigarettes or proscribed materials (from endangered species etc). One such incident occurred in late January 2015, when six containers, out of a batch of 30, were screened positive at the Thai port of Laem Chabang and were found to be carrying concealed Rosewood timber sections. The laden containers had originated in Laos and were destined for China. The scanner was being operated by the Thai Customs Organisation, which has already achieved some notable earlier seizures using the equipment. One earlier incident, dating from July 2014, concerned the discovery of three tonnes of heroin (in liquid form) by a Nuctech MB1215DE scanner operating at a border crossing into Georgia. It was hidden in barrels placed within a truck-trailer heading from Azerbaijan to Turkey and was valued at many millions of US dollars. In June, Montenegro Customs found 250kg of cocaine (worth an estimated €12M) using a Nuctech Vehicle H. The drug had been stowed in a container load of bananas destined for Albania, and the container itself had undergone some internal modification (not apparent from the outside) as part of the deception process. In Lithuania, meanwhile, an illegal haul of cigarettes was picked up in a container that was supposed to be carrying apple jam. This discovery was made by the Lithuanian Kybartai Customs, whose Nuctech MT1213DE scanner had only been put into service two months earlier, in December 2013. Recent deliveries have, meanwhile, gone to Norway, where the national customs’ body received a Nuctech mobile container inspection system in December 2014 for deployment at Heuliez, on the border with Sweden. Earlier, in August, two on-vehicle machines had been commissioned at Sara¬jevo by the customs’ organisation of Bosnia-Herzegovina. These are already helping to speed up the clearance of import/export traffic, while assisting in the fight against local smuggling. The customs’ decision to purchase Nuctech was aided by the good reports received from other users of the equipment within the Balkans region, and the company’s provision of good after-sales support.

Where Eagles dare
Rapiscan Systems is a leading US-based manufacturer of specialised security inspection systems and it, too, has recently sold one of its Eagle G60 (Gantry) design of scanner to Eastern Europe. The unit (supplied in April 2014) is rail-mounted and utilises the standard 6MeV x-ray i¬aging source. This contract was followed in May by another, worth US$15M and involving multiple deliveries of Eagle M60 (Mobile) machines to a “strategic geographic location” within the Middle East. The M60 is designed for rapid deployment, as it is road-mobile and can be set up operationally at a designated site within just 20 minutes. It can function in either drive-by or drive-through portal mode. The M60 unit features advanced transmission x-ray technology that can identify the presence of hidden contraband, including weapons, explosives and narcotics, and can also be configured to detect radioactive material. Other orders, placed more recently in the US, have covered the ongoing delivery of cargo inspection equipment valued at over US$115M. This hardware has been destined for commercial and military end-use. In May 2014, Rapiscan unveiled its new Driverless Eagle M60 version, which is fully automated and requires no driver to be present during the entire scan operation. It thus removes the problem associated with driver fatigue or other human error. The machine can be road-driven like a standard model, allowing it to be moved between locations quickly. However, when it is brought into position (by way of a remote steering system), the Driverless M60 automatically detects two positional sensors placed at either end of the scan location. These can be as much as 35m apart, permitting multiple units or oversized cargo pieces to be screened in one pass. As the scanning commences, additional sensors located within the M60 make minor adjustments to the vehicle’s direction and position to ensure it consistently drives in a straight line between the two positional sensors. This sensing is claimed by Rapiscan to be so accurate that the travelling M60 is designed not to deviate by more than 25mm from the centre line. The automated scan process is monitored by a systems’ operator housed in the M60’s on-board inspection office, who views the high resolution x-ray images generated from the scan in real time. Rapiscan explains that one of the key attractions of “going driverless” is that customs’ and border control agencies are able to better conserve their often scarce resources by saving on manpower costs.

Middle East
American Science and Engineering (AS&E) delivered six of its Z Portal multi-view x-ray screening systems to the Middle East during April 2014. Although the unnamed customer was new, and the equipment was the first of its type to be deployed in the destination country, it further added to an already impressive record, which has seen AS&E supply more than 600 cargo security devices to the Middle East region as a whole. Also in April, AS&E was to receive its largest single order to date for ZBV mobile screening systems, involving the supply of 33 units in total. It beat the previous record (for 28), set just three months earlier, in January, when yet another big purchase of this equipment was announced in the Middle East. AS&E has, to date, sold 730 of its ZBV devices globally, making this a world leader in the field of mobile security provision at ports, borders and checkpoints. Two ZBV units were purchased in May 2014 by the customs revenue authority in the Kingdom of Lesotho, a small landlocked country inside South Africa. These are being deployed at border points in order to speed up the inspection process, and so facilitate further trade, and they formed a key part of this nation’s customs modernisation programme. The use of ZBV surveillance has generally proven very effective in combating smugglers, with one customer recently reporting an increase of more than 50% in the number of tobacco seizures during the four months it had been using the ZBV equipment. In June, AS&E introduced its MINI Z, which is the first handheld Z Backscatter imaging system to have been developed – and is suited for scanning “on the go” by port/terminal personnel and in the least accessible environments.

Smiths Detection is another well-established manufacturer of cargo inspection systems, with the maritime sector covered by its HCV (Heimann Cargo Vision) product range. This equipment varies from large fixed-site installations to small, mobile truck-mounted versions. It has been supplied to numerous ports/terminals around the world, with many hundred scanner units delivered during the past 20 years. Upwards of 15% of total company revenues in 2014 were derived from equipment sales made to ports and borders, much of which comprised systems suited for container surveillance. Their turnover amounted to US$76M and was broadly similar to that generated each by the separate military and critical infrastructure divisions, although it was significantly less than the approximate US$260M (51% of total) coming from transport (mainly aviation) industries. Moreover, sales turnover was down by 16% for the ports and border market compared with 2013, which, according to Smiths Detection, reflected a slightly lower level of contract activity in 2014. In its end-year review, Smiths Detection still pointed to a strong growth in the demand for security screening equip¬ment at seaports and land-borders, due to the continuing globalisation of trade and increased regulatory standards. It noted: “Powerful technologies are required to address a variety of threats, as governments become increasingly concerned about the smuggling of explosives, weapons and radiological materials, whilst they continue to recognise the strong revenue-generating potential derived from contraband detection.” Nevertheless, in keeping with its competitors, Smiths Detection remains mindful of the trend towards cheaper and more flexible designs of scanner systems. To this end, the company is in the process of reviewing its existing product portfolio, by way of the recently launched Fuel for Growth programme, in order to simplify the range presently serving the large majority of market opportunities.

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