Drop the foolish rhetoric

Drop the foolish rhetoric

The year is barely 3 months old and the international transportation arena has received more national and international attention than in the past decade or more. Never mind that the center of attention, the P&O Ports sale to DP World, was one of the most misunderstood (or misrepresented) transactions ever to have taken place.

How many of us knew, for example, that P&O Ports owned and was selling six U.S. ports? It probably came as a surprise to the states where these ports are located; they thought that they owned them. That the DP World case got such a high political and public profile is more than ample evidence of how politicized the nation has become, at least to those inside the Beltway.

It's also a little disconcerting that the reporting wasn't done with more insight and facts, absent those found in the JoC. If it were a one- or two-day story, maybe there wasn't time to do the background information checking. But it was a story that was made public nearly six months ago in industry publications. Several weeks after emerging in the national media spotlight, there is still a scarcity of the facts in the stories and what the general public is being told. But hopefully the result will be a serious effort at the truly addressing the issue of port and national security.

Or maybe it's more apt to reflect on how comedic this episode became, with the likes of Jay Leno and Andy Rooney waxing poetic with their combined lack of understanding of what they were talking about. One of my weekly highlights is watching and hearing at the end of each "60 Minutes" telecast Mr. Rooney's observations on various issues of the world that seem to distress him. Most of the time he pokes fun at whatever the subject matter is that week.

On March 5, he noted how bad things had gotten in the U.S. as the government of the UAE was buying "six ports in the United States for $6.8 billion." He added that because he thought Americans could run these ports every bit as well or better than any Arab country could, there was no need to import Arabs to run our ports. Andy thought there would be many U.S. companies that would be happy to buy these ports, although he was surprised anyone would pay $6.8 billion for only six ports.

Andy, the next thing you know, someone will propose that those same Arabs should service and secure some of our Navy ships, including aircraft carriers, while they are out in the Middle East! We would never let that happen! What? You say they already do that?

Aside from the misunderstandings and misrepresentations, there may be a bright spot in all of the attention brought to this subject, and that is security at ports. Those of us who have been around the international transportation and logistics business for awhile recognize that the ability of anyone, from anywhere, to put something harmful into one or more of the 19 million containers that come into this country annually isn't that difficult. And that security in the form of random inspections, electronic document flow and inspection, seal validation, etc., doesn't really tell us today what is in those containers.

Trying to identify exactly what is in every one of those containers is like finding a specific needle in a stack of needles the size of the former World Trade Center towers. But if this situation has brought enough attention to the issue of real security at our ports, which causes real solutions to be sought out, found and implemented, maybe the politicized hysteria and misrepresentations will prove to be invaluable to our long-term national security. I hope the intent of those who became so vocal during the past few weeks was and is to truly find a way to secure our ports and our nation.

Not to be a cynic or doubter, but in the midst of all of the rhetoric, I did hear some interesting and familiar names of those who were representing or advising both sides of the issue; Bill and Hillary Clinton (one on either side of the issue), Madeleine Albright, Bob Dole, among others.

I wonder if any of them know that there are millions of tons of goods moving into this country not in containers, and how there may be opportunity for them to give more free advice on how to protect the country on those movements?

Gary Ferrulli is president of Global Logistics Consulting in Chandler, Ariz. He can be contacted at