April 19, 2024

Disaster in Japan: Countries Begin Radiation Checks on Ships That Have Visited Japan

HONG KONG — Shipping companies and airlines around the world, already nervous about rising fuel prices and the potential effect of an economic slowdown in Japan, now have another worry: intensified monitoring of ships and aircraft that have made recent stops in Japan.

As the concerns mount over radiation leaking from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Japan, several governments have announced various steps to monitor or screen ships and aircraft arriving from the quake-stricken country.

So far, very few ships or planes appear to have registered unusual radiation levels or suffered holdups because of contamination fears.

At the moment, most shipping companies and airlines are less concerned about potential disruption caused by radiation screening at ports and airports around the world than they are about a range of other international problems, like the health of the Japanese economy, increasing fuel bills and — in the case of sea traffic — piracy off the coast of Somalia.

Still, the prospect of tighter checks and possible delays to port calls has made many operators nervous.

One particular, and so far apparently unique, case has fanned the shipping industry’s fears. A Japanese cargo vessel was turned away last week by the Entry-Exit Inspection and Quarantine Bureau in the Chinese city of Xiamen, in the southeastern province of Fujian, after the bureau said it had detected a “radioactive anomaly” on the vessel. A representative of the ship’s operator, Mitsui O.S.K. Lines, later told Reuters that the radiation level in question was 3.5 microsieverts per hour — considered by experts to be far from harmful.

Adding to the confusion is the difficulty of getting a clear picture of exactly what approach the customs, security, health or port authorities in various countries and cities are taking, what radiation levels they consider abnormal and what steps officials might take if unusual levels are detected.

“We know some places are screening for radioactivity,” said Arthur Bowring, managing director of the Hong Kong Shipowners Association, one of the largest associations of its kind. “But often, we don’t know what exactly they are screening, and what levels of radioactivity would be considered abnormal by the various officials.”

Many vessels travel long routes spanning several countries and ports, he added. “How do you know that somewhere along a route, someone with a Geiger counter won’t seriously delay or deviate a ship or cargo?”

Measures announced so far vary widely, and they often lack detail about what is considered safe or abnormal, industry experts say.

The U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency, for example, said last week that “out of an abundance of caution,” it had directed field personnel to specifically monitor maritime and air traffic from Japan.

The Marine Department in Hong Kong is “keeping track” of oceangoing vessels that have been within 30 kilometers, or about 18 miles, of Fukushima. None have arrived in the Hong Kong port so far, a spokesman for the department said. The city’s Customs and Excise Department is checking seaborne and airborne cargo originating from Japan.

The government authorities have also set up a health desk at the restricted area of Hong Kong International Airport for inbound passengers arriving from Japan to conduct voluntary radioactivity screening.

In mainland China, which received about 20 percent of Japan’s exports by value last year, the General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine has asked the local inspection authorities to intensify monitoring of nuclear and radioactive materials. Qingdao Port is inspecting every batch of cargo that has originated from or been anchored in Japan since March 11.

In Indonesia, the authorities plan to start screening some ships from Japan at the Jakarta port using wipe tests before the end of the week, said Reno Alamsyah, the director of nuclear emergency preparedness at the Indonesian Nuclear Energy Regulatory Agency.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=58fe65a42c34e819b76c3024d607d928

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