Port Newark Not Worried by Dubai Purchase Plan

There are many levels of security at New Jersey's Port Newark, one of the terminals that would be run by Dubai Ports World. The workers at the terminal are nearly all American and that won't change, according to managers at the facility.

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If the deal is approved, Dubai Ports World would manage Port Newark in New Jersey. It's just across the river from and in view of Manhattan.

NPR's Adam Davidson went to the Port to see how security works.

ADAM DAVIDSON reporting:

First, a few quick facts: The Port of New York and New Jersey is not up for sale. It's owned, jointly, by both states. The port is divided into six terminals. Each terminal is rented to a private company, which runs day-to-day operations.

These terminal operators are basically luggage handlers. They get stuff off of ships and onto trucks and trains. Of those six New York area terminals, two are operated by Chinese companies, two by Americans, one by a Danish firm and the sixth, Port Newark Container Terminal, is co-owned by two companies, one is Danish, the other is P&O Ports, which used to be British and was just bought by Dubai Ports World.

Mr. CHARLES DARROW(ph) (Operations Manager, Port Newark Container Terminal): This is the ship came from Asia ...

DAVIDSON: Charles Darrow is standing next to the CSCO Melbourne, a massive ship out of Hong Kong. Darrow runs operations for Port Newark.

Mr. DARROW: The ship comes in loaded with several hundred containers, if not thousands, then these giant gantry cranes lift the container off, set it onto the ground ...

DAVIDSON: Port Newark is huge, almost 200 acres. It can simultaneously unload three big ships. There's space for countless thousands of stacked containers. There are trucks everywhere.

(Soundbite of trucks)

DAVIDSON: Hundreds come in every day, dropping off containers for export. Hundreds more are here to pick up the imports.

Mr. DARROW: These are the radiation detection devices. There's two sets of them so if they get a read on the first one, it has to go through a second one, identical, to verify the accuracy of the first reading ...

DAVIDSON: All containers are screened for radiation. About eight or nine percent get an additional X-ray screening and that's just what happens at the exit gate of the terminal.

Mr. JERRY VALENTI(ph) (Control Room Manager, Port Newark Container Terminal): We got camera systems on the containers. We got scales there ...

DAVIDSON: Jerry Valenti runs the control room. Here, they do a whole other set of security checks. The room is perched up above the gate, looking down on all the trucks waiting to come in or leave. There's a row of clerks, each sitting at a computer and monitor. They see a live shot of every truck and every container. First they check the truck drivers to make sure they have official port authority identification.

Mr. VALENTI: If they don't have one, they're turned away at the gate.

DAVIDSON: The clerks also check the pedigree of every container. If there's anything wrong (a security flag or the container's owner forgot to pay the terminal fees), the clerk signals security down below and the truck is not allowed to move. These clerks do the first pass, but Jerry Valenti says the real security is done by U.S. federal agents (mostly customs inspectors) who look at the manifest of every container.

Mr. VALENTI: So, if anything rings a bell, they'll pull it off to the side before it gets out the gate.

DAVIDSON: Jay Ahern is Assistant Commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection. He says the security screening starts a lot earlier. In fact, data on every single container shipped to the U.S. is put through a custom security screening process.

Mr. JAYSON AHERN (Assistant Commissioner, U.S. Customs and Border Protection): So every sea container is scored for risk before it's placed on board a container coming into the United States.

DAVIDSON: Ahern points out that the U.S. Coast Guard also gets data on these containers and does its own security screening and customs and Coast Guard work the same no matter who owns the contract to manage a terminal. In fact, half of east coast terminals are foreign managed and fully 90 percent of west coast terminals are managed by non-U.S. companies. Don Hamm, the president of Port Newark, says the ownership just doesn't matter. No matter who operates Port Newark, the employees would never let terrorists do anything here.

Mr. DON HAMM (President, Port Newark Container Terminal): We're dealing with all Americans working at this facility. They're not foreign nationals working here in any stretch of the imagination.

DAVIDSON: Hamm says it's impossible to imagine Dubai Ports World using its terminal operation contract for mischief. If it wanted to fundamentally change the way things work here or even if it just wanted to sneak one suspect container through, it would need to get by his staff, the Danish co-owner, the Port Authority, customs, Coast Guard and several other governmental agencies. Adam Davidson, NPR News, New York.

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