Plans by the European Union to tighten container security through a scheme modelled on one already operational in the US are falling behind schedule.
Plans by the European Union to tighten container security through a scheme modelled on one already operational in the US are falling behind schedule, partly because of the difficulty of obtaining uniformity across member states.
Requirements to complete security clearance for containers 24 hours before vessel loading have been in place for US-bound boxes for some time and have worked well, largely because of close co-operation between the authorities and shipping lines when the rules were being drafted.
The Washington-based World Shipping Council, which represents most global carriers, now hopes to repeat that success story in Europe, where Brussels is working on a similar set of rules.
One of the biggest lessons learned from the US when the 24-hour rule was being developed was the importance of consistency and the need for security assessments to be conducted in the same way at ports across the country, said Crowley Maritime chairman and chief executive Tom Crowley.
Initially, the industry was faced with the possibility of coast guard and customs officials at various ports applying the rules differently, a risk that the WSC managed to eliminate in the US and now wants to ensure is avoided in Europe.
Speaking after a WSC board meeting in London last week, Mr Crowley said shipping lines hoped to work with Brussels as it developed its own 24-hour rule.
?We want to help [the European Commission] get to the answer, not throw up roadblocks,? he said.
The WSC recently opened an office in Brussels so as to be in a stronger position to help shape Europe"s 24-hour requirements. So far, the commission ?has been very open to our experiences?, said AP Moller-Maersk"s Knud Pontoppidan.
Europe faces greater challenge than US
But Europe faces a far greater challenge than the US because competency is divided between the commission which establishes the rules, and the 27 member states, each with their own customs authorities and different IT systems, that must implement them. So the goal of the WSC is to encourage the commission to draft rules that work and make sense, and to assist member states with the integration of IT systems with those of shipping lines.
?We need uniformity so that the rules do not come into force at a different time in, say, Rotterdam than Hamburg,? said WSC president and chief executive Chris Koch.
The WSC expects the commission to postpone implementation until January 2011, having originally targeted a June 2009 start date.
A meeting of EU member states in early January is expected to confirm that delay for the screening of inbound cargoes. Plans for tighter security on export containers are less clear.
In the US, introduction of the 24-hour rule went well despite initial scepticism, with no negative affect on the flow of commerce while still meeting security requirements. That reflected a new readiness of lawmakers to listen to the industry, said WSC chairman and Neptune Orient Lines chief executive Ron Widdows.
At the time, ?it was not typical for the US government and the industry to interact and come to a common approach?, he said.
Many of the initial proposals would not have worked very well, but the government"s willingness to take note of recommendations and then make modifications ?had a whole lot to do? with the success of the 24-hour rule in the US.
China is also planning to bring in its own version of the 24-hour rule in January. Meanwhile, the US will take its own container security regime one step further next month when the so-called 10+2 rule comes into force, whereby shippers must supply 10 data elements direct to US Customs and Border Protection, with carriers providing another two data streams, covering vessel stowage plans and copies of container status messages.