Shippers, insurers tighten port security to thwart cargo theft

You may have paid more for that television set or pair of shoes than you should have - but not for the reasons that first come to mind, such as inflation or high retail markup.

Law enforcement officials, insurance company executives, and leading shippers meeting here recently for the 71st annual convention of the American Association of Port Authorties (AAPA), blamed ineffective airport and seaport security for increased costs that are passed on to consumers.

Ineffective port security is costing US consumers ''billions of dollars a year,'' says Maj. Frank Mazzone, chief of police of the Maryland Port Administration and chairman of AAPA's port security committee.

Thieves' latest twist in stealing valuable cargo, convention participants noted, is using computers to divert shipments. by gaining access to the computer routing codes.

But law officials say most port thefts fit the more traditional patterns: fences climbed or cut, guards avoided or attacked. All too often, Major Mazzone pointed out, someone on the inside cooperates with criminals.

But while traditional ways of breaking the law may still constitute most port crime, traditional approaches to tightening security just aren't working, said Hugh M. Lacey, vice-president of Sea-Land Service Inc., a major US shipper.

There is a growing awareness of management's role in port cargo security. Mr. Lacey stressed that there must be much more cooperation between law enforcement officials, insurance companies, and shippers for any significants reductions of cargo thefts to be sustained.

But interviews with shippers, port police, and maritime insurance company executives reveal cooperation between these parties is a relatively recent development. In fact, it wasn't until 1977, according to Mazzone, that AAPA's port security committee began recommending that insurers require that shippers file a report with police about thefts before honoring an insurance claim.

In Baltimore, for example, prior to 1977, ''there was virtually no reporting of cargo thefts at the seaport,'' Mazzone told the Monitor. ''In 1978, we implemented reporting procedures, and there was just under $1 million in reported thefts. But for calendar year 1981, there were only $250,000 in reported thefts. The first six months of 1982, there were reported thefts of little more than $100,000.''

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