US Customs protection court threat
MOVES to have American Customs officers based at Felixstowe port to help with the war against terrorism were today facing the threat of legal action.Government ministers are hoping to have officers working at the port as soon as possible but the European Commission is unhappy at the UK's go-it-alone policy and says it should have waited for EU agreement.
MOVES to have American Customs officers based at Felixstowe port to help with the war against terrorism were today facing the threat of legal action.
Government ministers are hoping to have officers working at the port as soon as possible but the European Commission is unhappy at the UK's go-it-alone policy and says it should have waited for EU agreement.
Commissioners are already taking several other states to court for breaching EU rules and now looks set to add Britain to that list.
The concern is that ports which have the "protection" of American customs officers for their US-bound cargo will have an unfair trade advantage.
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The US and the UK though say the aim is not to interfere with competition between ports but to "anticipate, spot and prevent" terrorist attacks.
A spokeswoman for Custom and Excise told the Evening Star that the officers will not be on operational duties but gathering intelligence and helping to identify suspicious cargo which could pose a terrorist risk.
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It is understood the officers – it is not known how many will be at the port – will be looking for "dirty bombs" and other smuggled weapons and explosives.
America's main fear is that a ship could sail into a harbour in the middle of a large city and a bomb could spread germ material over a densely-populated area.
"The US Customs officers will not have powers to carry out any operational work – they will not be stopping and searching containers before they are set en route," said the Customs spokeswoman.
"The officer will be helping with the gathering of intelligence, identifying suspicious cargo and so on.
"They are not in the UK yet but we want to get them here as quickly as we can."
The US Embassy in London said it could not comment on the deployment of the Customs officers but US Customs Commissioner Robert C. Bonner said the aim of the project was to have a safer, more secure world trading system.
"The Container Security Initiative is an insurance policy against terrorism. The CSI will help secure trade moving between British ports and the ports of the United States and it will do so without slowing down traffic," he said.
The EU though has already started legal proceedings against France, Germany, Holland and Belgium for entering into unilateral agreements and now may serve a summons on the UK.
The UK though says it took legal advice before signing the CSI and does not believe it has breached EU laws. It says any EU agreement will supersede its agreement with the US.
UK ports which will have American Customs officers are Felixstowe, Liverpool, Southampton, Tilbury and Thamesport.