LONG BEACH—Officials from the Port of Long Beach and the Port of Los Angeles are collaborating with local and federal agencies to mitigate the possibility of small ships entering the ports with illegal radiation.
The endeavor to halt the risk of radioactive material in transit is powered by the Maritime Chokepoint Operation, which allows law enforcement to scan small moving vessels, such as fishing boats and recreational hulls, for radiation.
The funding, which could be more than $30 million, comes from a program called “Securing the Cities.” The ports will work with such entities as the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, the U.S. Coast Guard, FBI and the Transportation Security Administration, among others.
Alex Avila of the Long Beach Police Department’s Port Division said the funding will help provide additional training and new radiological detection equipment and devices. The Los Angeles County Sherriff’s Department, equipped with a Rad/Nuc hazmat detail team will take the lead in setting up multi-agencies in the small vessel maritime operation.
“We have two chokepoints that traffic travels into the port with what we call the Queens Gates over at the Long Beach side and the Angels Gate over at the Port of L.A. side,” Avila explained. “All the boats will funnel in through there to the complex. We’ll take that opportunity to then set up Rad/Nuc screening vessels that don’t interfere with the flow of traffic. The vessels travel in through those gates, so we’re able to scan for radiological material using our various types of equipment. Traffic goes unimpeded unless there’s an alarm. Then we make contact with that boat and adjudicate that alarm.”
Sgt. Daniel Cobos of the Los Angeles Port Police said small ship scans have occurred the past three years prior to acquiring the grant money. He said this is the first year the money allocated to the program has left New York City, which has conducted radiation scans since 9/11.
“The reason smaller boats are a concern is that they don’t go through the portals that Custom and Border Patrol make all vessels 300 tons and over go through,” he said. “All those containers, export, import, all go through a radiation portal. So they get 100 percent checked.”
Cobos said that while there has never been a documented case of an illicit radiation source entering the port, it is important to complete the scans before boats enter the harbor.
During the April 18 demonstration, task forces presented the equipment currently being used to identify and prevent prohibited materials from entering the port.
“In the event we were ever to get intel that radiation was coming or that we were under the threat of a dirty bomb, we would all come together and spread out and cause chokepoints for small vessels to come through so that we could check them for any radiation,” Cobos said.
Avila said both ports are close partners not only in this operation, but in all security operations.
“We’re competitors in terms of business; in terms of security, we work together to secure this port,” he said. “In this type of operation the lead agency is the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, and they are the ones that write the operational order and the concept of operation and how we are going to operate for that day.”
Port officials are also requiring small boaters to slow down to speeds of 5 knots while entering either starboard or portside, according to Cobos. He added that port police are currently in the process of mounting scanning equipment onto the skid of a helicopter, which would allow authorities to scan vessels miles out.
“With our partners collectively, now and in the future, we have a good opportunity to thwart any elicit radiation from coming into the port landside or waterside,” Cobos said.