MEDITERRANEAN ports have been busy implementing the US Customs Container Security Initiative over the past year with six becoming operational and a host of others ready to sign up.
Designed to prevent the smuggling of terrorists or their weapons in oceangoing cargo containers, the CSI is based on the 24-hour rule, under which cargo documentation has to be transmitted to US customs 24 hours before loading on to a ship in a foreign port.
Data required includes the six-digit HS code and the weight of the cargo, the first international port in which the cargo was accepted, the last international port from which the US-bound ship left, the estimated time of arrival in the US, the names and addresses of shipper and consignee and ship's data.
The information is then checked in the National Targeting Center in the US, where an automatic risk assessment takes place.
Under the scheme US customs officers are based in the Mediterranean ports to help in co-ordinating the inspection of US-bound boxes before export.
Italian ports have been at the forefront of the CSI drive and a further three, Naples, Gioia Tauro and Livorno, have joined Genoa and La Spezia as operational ports.
'The declaration of principles addresses a common objective to enhance the security of ocean container ship- ments since this form of transport is vulnerable to the terrorist threat.' says Mario Andrea Guaiana, Italian customs director-general.
'The effective co-operation existing between the US and Italy at the ports of Genoa and La Spezia and the positive expertise developed during the year of operation of CSI in Italy are a matter of reference for the expansion to Naples, Gioia Tauro and Livorno.'
Mr Guaiana says the accord is aimed at 'identifying high-risk shipments and ultimately combating, in a more effective manner, the international terrorist threat'.
The port of Piraeus signed up to the initiative at the beginning of last year and found itself under an intense security microscope as Athens played host to the Olympic Games in August.
The US Customs provided the Greek authorities with two mobile container scanning machines to help the nation get the programme off the ground.
The port of Algeciras took delivery of a large mobile scanner last year to carry out checks on US-bound containerised cargo as part of its Container Security Initiative drive.
The checks will be carried out by Spanish customs working alongside four US customs officers who are now based at the southern Spanish port.
The scanner is only for temporary use and was brought to Algeciras by US customs, highlighting the port's importance as a hub for US-bound traffic.
Puertos del Estado, the central ports body, is in the process of buying three permanent scanners for the Spanish ports of Algeciras, Valencia and Barcelona, all of which will participate in the CSI.
The scanner will be manned by officers from Spanish customs and the Civil Guard, working alongside four US Customs officers.
The port of Marseilles became the 34th operational CSI port at the beginning of this year when it followed the lead of fellow French port Le Havre.
'We are pleased that the port of Marseilles is now included in CSI,' says Francois Mongin, director-general of the French Customs and Excise Service.
'This now cements a collaborated effort between the US and France which began with Le Havre.
'France has again shown its commitment to the anti-terrorism campaign, to which we and our allies pledged ourselves after September 11, 2001.'
In addition to the CSI, Spain and Greece have both signed an agreement to improve detection of hidden shipments of nuclear material.
The agreement is part of the Megaports Initiative established by the US Department of Energy's National Nuclear Security Administration, which aims to prevent the illicit transport of nuclear and other radioactive material.
The Megaports Initiative is part of the Department of Energy's 'Second Line of Defence' programmes, designed to prevent the shipment of 'dirty bombs' through ports.