Senator Susan Collins, chairman of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security
and Governmental Affairs, issued a press release Tuesday touting a letter she
sent to Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff and Treasury Secretary
John Snow, calling for increased scrutiny over the deal, in which Dubai Ports
World would purchase P&O Ports for a
reported $6.8 billion.
At issue is whether the government of the United Arab Emirates - a country
Collins calls "a base for terrorism financing and operations" -
should oversee the main means by which goods enter the United States. The
problem is made worse because the Bush Administration has spent relatively little
money beefing up port security.
On the upside, Portland folks seem unconcerned. While
P&O's PR firm wasn't taking calls from the media today, saying they are
"a small firm" that's "swamped," Jack Humeniuk, P&O
Ports' operations chief in Portland, said he would talk as a representative of
the International Longshoremen's Association, the union that handles cargo in
In Portland, he said, P&O has a "small
operation," and is not responsible for port security or terminal security.
Its employees work at the International Marine Terminal, handling cargo, and
the Portland Ocean Terminal, serving cruise ships. The company has a security
plan for its employees and the areas it controls, but the city and the Coast
Guard are ultimately in charge, Humeniuk said.
"I don't expect that much would change," he said,
if Dubai Ports World took over. On average, the port of Portland handles
between 3000 and 4000 20-foot-container-equivalents each year, about half
inbound and half outbound. The containers can weigh anywhere between 8000 and
55,000 pounds, he said.
All of the cargo from here goes through Halifax, Nova
Scotia, on its way in and out, he said. That is where the big seagoing
freighters load and unload, and a "feeder ship" travels between
Halifax and Portland with the local freight.
He said P&O Group has been seeking to sell off its
Princess Cruise Lines, P&O Ferries, P&O Nedlloyd, and P&O Ports and
just become a holding company, for business reasons.
Capt. Jeff Monroe, the director of Portland's department of
transportation and waterfront, confirmed that the city is not concerned about
the sale of P&O Ports from a local point of view. The company is under
contract with Hapag-Lloyd to handle freight.
Monroe said the city is ultimately responsible for security,
and will enforce the same rules not matter who owns or manages the ships or
US Coast Guard Lieutenant Connie Braesch, a spokeswoman for
the Coast Guard unit overseeing Portland Harbor, said the Coast Guard will also
enforce all federal shipping-safety laws, no matter what company owns the
equipment or pays cargo-handling staff.
Monroe said, however, that the federal government should be
clear on what's happening, and should investigate if there are questions about
a business deal that might affect security.
Monroe, who has testified before Congress on port-security
issues, said port security is "a lot better than it was five years
ago," with a better working relationship between federal, state, and local
agencies, but remains "a work in progress."
While he said the containers coming into Portland have
typically been screened twice - going into and coming out of Halifax - he
admitted there is not any equipment to remotely screen the contents of a
container here in Portland.
"If there is a suspect container, they'll unpack
it," he said.