Cargo Scanning in the Age of Heroin: Logistics & Security

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May 13, 2014

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With the recent seizure of a heroin shipment off the Kenyan coast in quantities that simply boggle the mind, the issue of cargo scanning and security has entered the forefront of public discussion, more so in logistics circles. While some of us struggled to grasp the concept of Kshs. 24.9 billion, others questioned how a vessel loaded with arguably the largest narcotic shipment ever netted in African history managed to slip by the systems put in place to avert such and worse situations. Social media, the hub of entertaining Kenyan speculation, was rife with conspiracy theories extending to the ‘real’ fate of the seized heroin. While that question may remain unanswered in the near future, we in the supply chain management business are more inclined to look at how to prevent such an occurrence in the future.

Cargo scanning gets a bad rap from many maritime quarters: some have argued that manual inspection can upset and cause damage to delicate shipments, or compromise cargo security by exposing it to pilfering by unscrupulous authorities. Where popular radiation-based methods of scanning were hailed as a non-intrusive solution, other parties quickly rose up to oppose it for health reasons, stating that prolonged exposure could cause harm to employees and disrupt cargo sensitive to the effects of radiation.

With alternative means of inspection available, however, this should not be an issue. The Multi-Mode Passive Detection System, unveiled by Decision Science International Corporation, works on a revolutionary system that allows tracking of harmless, naturally occurring cosmic ray particles known as muons that penetrate dense materials typically used to conceal contraband cargo. This method eliminates the need for nuclear or radiation-based scanning, thus removing the health threats to employees.

Furthermore, external cargo inspection firms can be hired to help speed up the process and take the load off the institutions currently in place. Such firms usually have the benefit of vast private resources to invest in research into scanning procedures and equipment, developing systems that are far more advanced and efficient than public sector facilities.

Photo credit: wikimedia

Photo credit: wikimedia

Since contraband does not only extend to narcotics, cargo scanning also extends to cover other possible smuggling threats. In some areas, this usually includes weapons, such as nuclear materials, guns and so forth. This threat is usually focused in areas serving conflict zones, but can also include destinations which are a target for terrorism activities. In other areas, the threat of smuggled persons exists. These can be political refugees on the run for crimes, human trafficking victims or just illegal immigrants in search of a better life in a different country. For such cases, breath sensors exist, which are able to pinpoint the breathing partners of a person being smuggled among cargo and put a stop to the offending shipment.

While the heroin haul exposed the existence of loopholes in terms of contraband shipment, we in the supply chain management choose to see the silver lining. With renewed focus on security and scanning of cargo, the high alert situation will trigger more intensive taking of precautions, to the increased security of our country. Have a cautious day, won’t you?


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