WASHINGTON — Legislation that could shut down a port’s container operations for an alleged security risk is misleading and misguided, according to the American Association of Port Authorities.

The Port Crane Security and Inspection Act of 2023, introduced Wednesday by U.S. Reps. Carlos Gimenez, R-Fla., and John Garamendi, D-Calif., would require federal authorities to inspect cranes and the software used to operate them if they were manufactured in countries considered adversaries of the U.S. — namely China — for potential security threats before they could be placed in operation.

In introducing the legislation, Gimenez points out that roughly 80% of the port cranes operating in the U.S. are made in China.

“This reliance on foreign cranes allows the CCP [Chinese Communist Party] to illicitly capture information about materials being shipped in and out of the country and could lead to severe disruptions in critical infrastructure centers,” according to Gimenez. The legislation, he said, “guarantees that America’s ports are protected from cybersecurity attacks and potential security breaches by malign actors.”

The bill is almost identical to legislation Gimenez introduced in 2022 but adds a provision that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security “take any crane that poses a security risk or threat offline until such crane can be certified as no longer being a risk or threat.”

However, AAPA President and CEO Chris Connor, who lobbies on behalf of the nation’s major container ports, most of which operate Chinese-made gantry cranes, contends that there is zero evidence to support “sensationalized” claims that the equipment is not secure.

“That’s misleading at best,” Connor said in a statement in response to the legislation.

“The cranes our ports procure, based on cost, use separate software purchased from allied countries like Japan and Sweden, and they undergo rigorous security inspections with federal government partners to safeguard against cyber threats. What our ports are more concerned with … and what D.C. lawmakers should be asking is: why can’t we produce this hardware here in the United States?”

In a statement issued in March in response to reports of potential Chinese infiltration at U.S. ports, AAPA emphasized that its seaport members partner with the government to assess foreign security risks.

“Recent reports — citing sources that have worked directly with the industry — have at times conflated the approved equipment at ports with other Chinese technology that has consciously been rejected in the U.S. because of potential misuse,” AAPA stated.

The bill adds to mounting political concerns about alleged Chinese influence over U.S. container trades.

In March, Garamendi and Rep. Dusty Johnson, R-S.D., introduced an ocean shipping reform bill that includes a provision banning U.S. ports from using the National Transportation and Logistics Public Information Platform, a Chinese state-sponsored container shipment tracking data exchange that China has branded as LOGINK.

The bill also calls for a study to assess the ability of the Shanghai Shipping Exchange, which runs the Shanghai Containerized Freight Index — a closely watched measure of container spot rates — to manipulate container freight markets.

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Click for more FreightWaves articles by John Gallagher.

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