If German ports want to continue doing business with America, they have until July 1 to install comprehensive and high-tech security systems designed to keep out terrorists.
Hamburg harbor is one of the most modern and secure in the world.
Over the past two years, Hamburg's massive port has begun to turn itself into a modern-day fortress.
Germany's largest shipping port -- the eighth busiest in the world -- has installed security cameras, ID and x-ray scanners as part of the International Ship and Port Facility Security Code, agreed on by the United States in 2002. The code lays out security plans international ports must implement if they want to continue doing trade with the United States. Only ports that have given U.S. customs agents access to their facilities are allowed to ship freight to U.S. ports.
"It's very important to do this now," Jens Weber, who is responsible for bringing the port's security procedures in line with America's demands, told DW-RADIO. "The terminals are sheltered against theft, but to shelter a terminal against acts of terrorism, there is much more to be done."
High-tech, random checks
All container trucks passing through the gates of the Hamburg port are now subject to a security check. Port employees scan the truck's documents and freight papers and cross check the information in a computer system and with the shipping company. Should there be any reason for suspicion, customs officers will check the container using new X-ray scanners.
If everything checks out the driver is given a plastic ID card that must then be presented at other check points until the container has been transferred the harbor’s satellite-controlled and fully automated loading system.
Customs officials are also on hand to examine container numbers and documentation. Inspectors look to see if there’s any damage to the steel container and they check the high security seal on the door.
"They make random checks. First they check the papers and if there’s any suggestion there’s anything wrong, they make an x-ray check and if they find something on the screen, they strip the container,” said Weber.
Major task ahead of them
The companies that use the harbor bear the large brunt of the cost. In order to get a security certificate from officials, companies have to invest at least €30,000 ($37,580). For large firms, the costs climb into the millions.
More than 6 million containers went in and out of the port last year.
Despite acknowledgement that their harbor is among the most modern in the world, Hamburg city officials are realistic about the challenges that face them. Last year, more than six million containers moved in and out of the Hamburg port. The harbor has room for 300 ships.
"“If we checked each of the six million containers that we handle in Hamburg each year – opened the doors or sent them to be x-rayed, we’d have a traffic jam all the way to the Alps," said Heiko Beller, of Hamburg's Department of the Interior in a DW-RADIO interview.
Port officials will have to learn how to keep security standards high without hampering the normal flow of business. “We need to undertake measures that don’t strangle the port economy and traffic," Beller said. "Of course we want to promote trade. If the measures became too strong, they would probably restrict it. But that’s a balancing act that has to be performed.”