Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Cargo Scanning and Antiquity Smugglers

Clare Lighton ('No silver bullet' for air cargo security concerns', BBC News, 1 November 2010) writes:
In the light of this weekend's bomb scares, all talk now is of how the security of air cargo can be improved. In the UK, 60% of air freight is carried in passenger planes, the rest goes on specialist cargo planes. But whilst all passenger baggage is subject to inspection by x-ray, only a small amount of air cargo is checked in the same way. There is no standard procedure for checking air freight and regulations vary from country to country.
Obviously a situation that favours the smuggler as well as the terrorist. Probably a clampdown is in the air, making things more difficult for both. Antiquities such as coins, pots and statues (not to mention human mummies) will show up on scans and exporters who label them as something else will be caught out. Apparently the shipping of air freight is now considered the Achilles' heel of airline safety, even when cargo is scanned industry analysts say that the technology used is less sophisticated than that used for passenger luggage.

According to the international air transport body, IATA, 80 million tonnes of goods travel by air each year. The bulk of air cargo is made up of higher-value electronics, engineering and machine parts, pharmaceuticals and fruit and vegetables, but can also include scrap metal and cars. [...] The current regulations governing air freight were introduced in the aftermath of the Lockerbie bombing in 1988. At the time experts said that the screening of passenger baggage would pose huge problems for the industry, but that is now routine. One of the key elements to making the system safer is increased vigilance. "Goods and packages can be profiled in the same way as passengers," says Philip Baum [of Green Light Aviation Security ]. "You have to look at the sender and the recipient and ask questions." Mr Baum believes that a fundamental overhaul of airline security is needed...

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