SAFE Port Act – Background, Provisions and Recent Developments

  • By: Staff Editor
  • Date: July 22, 2010
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After the 9/11 attacks, Congress enacted the Maritime Transportation Security Act (MTSA), aimed at improving port security. Enacted in November 2002, MTSA was designed, in part, to help protect the nation’s ports and waterways from terrorist attacks by requiring a wide range of security improvements. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) administers much of this framework, which also attempts to balance security priorities with the need to facilitate legitimate trade.

The SAFE Port Act, which was enacted in October 2006, was an addition to this port security framework. It was created as a response to the bid by Dubai Ports World to acquire US ports run by P&O in 2006. This attempt by a foreign company to buy and run American ports led to a heated debate about national security and the possibility of increased terrorism risks. Around 17,000 imported containers enter 361 American ports per day and there weren’t enough safeguards in place to ensure that these containers didn’t pose a threat to national security.

The act made a number of adjustments to programs within this framework, creating additional programs or lines of effort and altering others. It created and codified new programs and initiatives, and amended some of the original provisions of MTSA.


The SAFE Port Act includes provisions that:

  • Codified the Container Security Initiative (CSI) and the Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism (C-TPAT), two programs administered by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to help reduce threats associated with cargo shipped in containers, as well as established the Domestic Nuclear Detection Office (DNDO), which is responsible for conducting research, development, testing, and evaluation of radiation detection equipment
  • Required interagency operational centers where agencies organize to fit the security needs of the port area at selected ports
  • Set an implementation schedule and fee restrictions for Transportation Worker Identification Credential (TWIC)
  • Required that all containers entering high-volume U.S. ports be scanned for radiation sources by December 31, 2007 and
  • Required additional data be made available to CBP for targeting cargo containers for inspection.


SAFE Port Act Enforcement Agencies

The act created the following offices to oversee different aspects of port and trade security within the DHS:

  • Office of Cargo Security Policy
  • Director of Trade Policy
  • Container Security Initiative
  • Domestic Nuclear Detection Office

The law also requires the creation of an Office of International Trade within US Customs and Border Protection.

SAFE Port Act – Summary of Titles

The SAFE Port Act includes the following titles, each covering different aspects of port security, container safety and other issues. Following are the main highlights of each of the Act’s titles:

Title Highlights
Title I - Security of United States Seaports Subtitle A - General Provisions
  • Either a US citizen or a person cleared through extensive checks can only be incharge of a facilty’s security.
  • Port security plans to be inspected at least twice annually with one unannounced inspection
  • Transportation security cards to be issued to all facility workers who clear background checks
  • Port security to be overseen by interagency operational centers.
  • Foreign vessels nearing the Outer Continental Shelf will have to give notice of their arrival.
  • All crewmembers on vessels entering US ports will need proper identity documents.
Subtitle B - Port Security Grants; Training and Exercise Programs
  • Implementation of a risk assessment tool for updating area maritime security plans and for applying for port security grants.
  • Requirements for implementation of Port Security Grants and eligibility for these.
  • The Port Security Training and Port Security Exercise Programs have to be carried out.
  • High risk port facilities should conduct live or full scale security exercises at least once every two years.
Subtitle C - Port Operations
  • Radiation scanning of containers entering high volume U.S. ports by vessel.
  • Establishment of an Intermodal Rail Radiation Detection Test Center.
  • Random searches of shipping containers will be carried out.
  • Screening of passengers and vehicles boarding car ferries.
Title II - Security of the International Supply Chain

Subtitle A - General Provisions

  • Requires strategic plan to protect the international supply chain.
  • Requires protocols for the resumption of trade after a transportation security incident.
  • Automated Targeting System to be created, which collects data of and traces all inbound containers.
  • Container Security Initiative (CSI) will identify and examine or search maritime containers that pose a security risk before loading in a foreign port for shipment to the United States.

Subtitle B - Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism

  • Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism (C-TPAT) will be established as a voluntary government-private sector program to strengthen and improve the overall security of the international supply chain and U.S. border security and to facilitate the movement of secure cargo.

Subtitle C - Miscellaneous Provisions

  • All incoming cargo containers will be screened to identify high-risk containers and these will be scanned or searched.
  • Supply chain security measures will be implemented at ports designated under the CSI.
  • Foreign ports will be assessed for security and safety.
Title III - Administration
  • Office of Cargo Security Policy will be established within the DHS to coordinate all its policies relating to cargo security
  • The DHS Secretary will direct, coordinate, and evaluate research, development, testing, and evaluation efforts in furtherance of maritime and cargo security.
Title IV - Agency Resources and Oversight
  • Director of Trade Policy in DHS will be established to advise on all aspects of DHS policies relating to trade and customs revenue functions.
  • U.S. Customs and Border Protection will establish an Office of International Trade, to be headed by an Assistant Commissioner.
  • An electronic trade data interchange system, to be known as the International Trade Data System (ITDS) will be established.
Title V - Domestic Nuclear Detection Office
  • Establishes a Domestic Nuclear Detection Office as part of the DHS, to be headed by a presidentially-appointed Director. The office will be responsible for the coordination of federal efforts to detect and protect against the unauthorized importation, possession, storage, transportation, development, or use of a nuclear explosive device, fissile material, or radiological material in the United States.
Title VI - Commercial Mobile Service Alerts
  • Commercial mobile service providers should provide emergency alerts to their subscribers.
  • Amends the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act to redefine "essential service provider", increase community disaster loans, increase the federal share of relocating a public building destroyed by a disaster, expedites disaster relief payments for debris removal and requires the head of a federal agency involved in disaster relief to formulate requirements for the use of local contractors for disaster relief services.
  • The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to oversee the radiological emergency preparedness program and the chemical stockpile emergency preparedness program.
  • Amends the Homeland Security Act of 2002 to revise the definition of "emergency response provider" to include governmental and nongovernmental agencies.
Title VII - Other Matters
  • Creation of security plan for essential air service and small community airports.
  • Regulations for Department of Transportation initiatives relating to trucking security will be established.
  • The U.S. Customs and Border Protection Commissioner will establish performance indicators relating to the seizure of methamphetamine and precursor chemicals and study the movement of such drugs into the United States.
Title VIII - Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement
  • Defines "bets and wagers" for purposes of this Act
  • Defines restricted transactions
  • Prohibits persons engaged in the business of betting or wagering from knowingly accepting restricted transactions
  • Restricted transactions will be identified and blocked.
  • Foreign governments asked to partner in identifying whether internet gambling operations are used for money laundering, corruption or other crimes.


SAFE Port Act Enforcement Post 2006 Developments

A year after the SAFE Port Act became law, the Government Accountability Office did a study of the progress made on the legislation’s requirements.

Port security effort by Federal Agencies:

  • Establishing committees to share information with local port stakeholders,       
  • Taking steps to establish interagency operations centers to monitor port activities,
  • Conducting operations such as harbor patrols and vessel escorts,
  • Writing port-level plans to prevent and respond to terrorist attacks,
  • Testing such plans through exercises, and
  • Assessing the security at foreign ports.

It was found that private facilities and federal agencies have taken action to improve security at about 3,000 individual facilities by:

  • Writing facility-specific security plans,
  • Inspecting facilities to determine compliance with their plans, and
  • Developing special identification cards for workers to help prevent terrorists from getting access to secure areas

The security of cargo containers was found to have improved as agencies were enhancing systems to identify high-risk cargo, expanding partnerships with other countries to screen containers before they depart for the United States, and working with international organizations to develop a global framework for container security.

In April 2009, the Transport Security Administration fully implemented the Transportation Worker Identification Credential after a long delay. This transportation security card program covers around 750,000 individuals in facilities across the country.

Additional Resources

To read the SAFE Port Act in full, click here.
For more information on the Transportation Worker Identification Credential, please visit:
Learn more about C-TPAT program through the following ComplianceOnline webinars:
Preparing for a C-TPAT Revalidation
Domestic C-TPAT Validation Visit Preparation

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