The market for devices and systems designed to protect the world's container shipping from terrorist attack is projected to be worth $100bn to $200bn over the next 10 years. The news comes as America's homeland security chief visits Europe to urge close transatlantic co-operation on anti-terror measures.
The huge market in cargo counter-terrorism has been predicted by United Technologies Corporation (UTC), the US industrial conglomerate. It is one of the companies developing state of the art technology that has wide security applications including monitoring freight shipping.
Since the 11 September attacks, cargo vessels and port facilities have become the focus of security concerns. Sea transport accounts for 90% of the world's trade, according to the International Maritime Organisation, a United Nations agency. A terrorist incident on a key shipping lane would be extremely disruptive to the global economy.
UTC told The Business that it is currently in discussions with customers including Maersk - one of the largest liner shipping companies in the world - to assess their interest in acquiring the technologies being developed for its fire and security subsidiary. The subsidiary was recently created to house UTC's growing security business which includes Chubb, the UK security service provider it bought two years ago.
UTC's research centre is pioneering a system of cameras and software that can detect anomalies within the camera's field of vision, such as someone climbing over a fence or bags left in the middle of the road. The software looks for deviations from its programming and highlights the aberration in red.
UTC hopes to package the innovation as an "intelligent sensor" no bigger than a $10 silicon chip. It could also be used to protect cash ATMs which are prone to theft. When a camera detects that a machine has been tampered with, a instruction is sent to shut it down. The technology is still being tested for robustness.
Last week, US secretary of homeland security Michael Chertoff said in Brussels: "Our ability to inspect efficiently and swiftly depends on accurate screening and targeting high-risk cargo. That boils down to the overarching issues of information sharing and tracking. Technology is obviously crucial to creating a global security structure." Such technology should be compatible around the world, he stressed. Chertoff was visiting security officials on a tour of Europe.
Nearly 100m container units are transported by ship every year, making their protection a daunting task. Since 11 September authorities in the US and elsewhere have installed radiation and biological-hazard detection equipment, tightened procedures on cargo vessels and introduced new security programmes at port facilities.
America has lead the way. The Container Security Initiative establishes a system for pre-screening and securing cargo containers to be shipped to the US before they leave their ports of origin. The customs and border protection has launched the customs-trade partnership against terrorism, a voluntary agreement aimed at improving security across the global supply chain through standardised procedures.
Critics have slammed the initiatives as insufficient and misdirected and see room for improvement. They are being examined by the government accountability office, which will shortly issue two reports. America is already moving to replace many screening devices installed after 11 September at a cost of $4.5bn because they are ineffective.