The new changes will give Australian ports a number one security ranking for container scanning, enabling ships outward bound to meet the strict regulations being applied by the U.S. to its trading partners. Good news for access and ID suppliers is the stipulation that all workers will have to carry photo ID cards and pass through security checkpoints of the same standard as those in the airline industry. Also appealing to industry suppliers is the news that a whopping $A17 million will be spent installing video surveillance systems at 63 customs designated ports around Australia.

Making the announcement, Prime Minister Howard said it was important to be aware that “74 per cent of Australian exports and imports move by ship each year and that (trade) has a total value of $188 billion.” The PM said that a total of 244 maritime security plans covering the activities of about 400 maritime industry participants were developed and approved over the last six months.

Mr Howard said the initiatives would cost $A102 million over 4 years, and would include $A48 million to enhance and increase the rate of container examinations of the Australian Customs Service customs container x-ray facilities in Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne and Fremantle, with the biggest increase in container examinations will take place in Brisbane.

“We’re going to spend a further $9.3 million to enable Customs to board more vessels at the first port of arrival in Australia, and this will include more random checks so that any ship entering any port can expect to be boarded,” Mr Howard explained. “We’ll extend the Customs closed circuit television network to all 63 Customs proclaimed ports at a cost of over $17 million over the 4-year period.

“There will be posting of specialist immigration officials to ports to assist with clearance of passengers and seafarers, and that will cost $12.3 million. We’ll introduce a maritime security identification card for maritime industry employees. We’ll provide additional resources to further strengthen intelligence collection and the provision of intelligence information within key ports, and we’ll provide an additional $4.4 million to allow the Government’s Transport Security Operations Centre to work 24 hours a day, seven days a week.”

The PM said the government had already established a dedicated taskforce to examine the security of Australia’s offshore oil and gas facilities and assets and consider Australian Government capabilities and protocols for interdicting ships and other vessels at sea.

“We’re undertaking already a detailed examination of security arrangements for transporting high consequence dangerous goods and this will build on the recent Council of Australian Government’s work on ammonium nitrate, with the aim of restricting access to materials that could be misused by terrorists,” Mr Howard said. “And we’ll provide some limited additional powers for privately engaged maritime security guards to enable them to respond with appropriate authority to breaches of security within ports.

“At the same time, we’re strengthening transport security in Australia and we’re also working with our neighbours in the Asian Pacific region to improve their transport security. And in particular, Australia is working with neighbouring governments to ensure that ships and aircraft entering Australia from the region comply fully with international security standards.

According to Mr Howard, Australia is planning to host a number of transport security experts within the region to help in building its capacity. He said agreement has been reached with the Philippines Government to enhance maritime security at selected key shipping ports, and as previously announced, and…Australia is contributing $36.8 million to the establishment of a Jakarta centre for law enforcement cooperation, which was opened early July.

Australia is undeniably ahead of the game in port security. All international ports are required by the International Maritime Organization, a U.N. agency, to apply set security standards by July 1. But in mid-June, only 654 of the 6,114 ports subject to the international security code had complied. Reports suggest few of the still unsecured ports will meet the deadline.

Meanwhile, security experts say there’s no chance customs authorities in any country could check the millions of containers moving around the world – even with X-ray or explosives/radiation detection scanners.