RADAR SCREEN

RADAR SCREEN

An anti-terrorism bill that would bring Star Wars technology to California freeways is quietly working its way through the state Legislature. Assembly Bill 575 would allow the California Highway Patrol to remotely disable a truck carrying hazardous materials in dangerous situations, such as during a hijacking. Trucks would be equipped with global positioning satellite hardware that would allow real-time tracking of the vehicle's journey. If the truck were hijacked, the highway patrol could bring it toa controlled stop with the use of a laser device. If the legislation becomes law, and the technology proves successful, transporters of hazardous materials would face higher costs, especially if the state requires anti-terrorism devices on all trucks.

A committee of carriers and non-vessel-operating common carriers is meeting with the Bureau of Customs and Border Protection to work out details of re-programming the Automated Manifest System. The objective is to solve problems that cropped up after implementation of the 24-hour rule. One option would have NVOs submit cargo data for security screening, then hand the manifest over to the carrier to handle cargo "the old way" - for example, having the carrier move containers inland on its own in-transit bond. Another would be closer to the "new way," with the NVO arranging its own inland transportation and in-Bond moves. It appears that the "special bill working group" is Customs' way of finding a solution that will make almost everyone happy, although no option is a clear winner yet.

Continental Airlines plans to resume flights between Hong Kong and Newark International Airport on July 2, but cargo revenue on the route could plunge as a result of new Federal Aviation Administration weight standards. The FAAplans to raise estimated weights by 10 pounds for passengers and their carry-on baggage. Continental hopes to win an exemption from the rule by proving that its passengers, many of whom are Asians, weigh less than the new 190-pound standard.

The Coast Guard has submitted its proposed interim maritime security regulations to the Office of Management and Budget for review. The regulations cover port, facility and vessel security, security for offshore facilities, and automatic identification systems for ships. The interim regulations closely follow what the Coast Guard has been publishing as navigation and vessel inspection circulars. The interim regulations should take effect in early July, with final rules in April 2004 to coincide with implementation of the International Maritime Organization's security rules.

Shipping interests in California warned that when the cash-strapped state reinstated a tax of more than 8 percent on bunker fuel, shipowners would purchase their fuel elsewhere. That is exactly what is happening. Sales in Los Angeles-Long Beach, the largest bunkering port in the state, dropped 16.7 percent from Jan. 1, when the tax was reinstated, through March. Even so, the Pacific Merchant Shipping Association says the effect of the tax has been muted by increased supply of bunker fuel in California and above-normal prices in other Pacific Rim regions because of the Iraq war and oil-industry strikes in Venezuela. The PMSA says that after these short-term developments, California bunker fuel will become uncompetitive. The shipping industry group plans this summer to seek emergency legislation to rescind the tax.