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Shipping industry responds to new threats

Stephen Beard Nov 1, 2010
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Shipping industry responds to new threats

Stephen Beard Nov 1, 2010
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TEXT OF INTERVIEW

JEREMY HOBSON: The shipping and cargo industry is responding to new threats exposed by the mail bombs sent on Friday. The bombs were sent through London airports, and today the U.K. today is convening a crisis panel to investigate the threat. Meanwhile, we ask how will this whole episode change the business of air cargo?

Marketplace’s Stephen Beard joins us live from London with more. Good morning, Stephen.

STEPHEN BEARD: Hello Jeremy.

HOBSON: Stephen, it’s not like it’s a brand new concept that someone could send a bomb through the mail. Has this event exposed some weakness in the security of the cargo business?

BEARD: Yes, air cargo if it’s scanned at all is scanned by conventional x-ray which is actually not very good at detecting very small amounts of explosives as in this case. We’re going to have to move to a system where cargo is scanned by the far more sophisticated equipment currently used to scan passenger’s checked baggage. Now, two problems with this — that equipment is much more expensive to buy, and at the moment it will only work on relatively small bits of cargo like passenger’s baggage. Here’s Norman Shanks, a security consultant. He was Security Chief at British airports at the time of the Lockerbie Bombing, and subsequently helped develop this more sophisticated scanning device. But as he says, it has its limitations.

NORMAN SHANKS: We’re a long way away before we could screen whole cargo containers. So we have to break them down into individual packages. Take time, it will be costly, but I think we have to introduce that for packages coming from known risks whether they’re either people or from particular countries.

HOBSON: So it’s going be more expensive, Stephen. Who’s going to foot the bill for all this? Will it cost us more to send packages in the future?

BEARD: In the short term — yes. Some countries accept their tax payers should pick up the tab for this. But most say no, this is for the shipping companies and the airlines to pay. And they will surely pass on their additional costs. In the longer term, however, these extra costs could be fairly modest. If they crack the problem of getting these sophisticated scanners to work on whole containers on cargo, the system could be cheaper to run because its automated and doesn’t require so much staff to operate.

HOBSON: Very interesting. Marketplace’s Stephen Beard in London, thanks Stephen.

BEARD: OK Jeremy.

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