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US House Bill Seeks to Ban Use of Foreign-Manufactured Cranes in Ports

ban Chinese manufactured port cranes
Massive container cranes are built in China and shipped around the world on heavy lift vessels (NWSA file photo)

Published May 19, 2023 12:16 PM by The Maritime Executive

A new bill has been proposed in the U.S. House of Representatives that seeks to bar the use of Chinese-manufactured cranes in U.S. ports while also requiring a security review of all existing cranes. Ports would have to take any cranes currently in use that are deemed a security threat immediately offline. Similar legislation was proposed last year while recent media reports alleged the foreign-made cranes could be used to spy on port operations and disrupt America’s supply chains, a claim strongly refuted by the trade association for America’s ports.

The legislation was introduced as the House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Transportation and Maritime Security also held a hearing on May 11, regarding vulnerabilities at the nation’s ports. Summoned to appear before the committee were representatives from the U.S. Coast Guard, Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), and the Transportation Security Administration.

“Over the past few years, I have continued to raise concern about the widespread presence of Chinese manufactured cranes at our nation’s ports. I am particularly concerned about the use of Chinese technology and equipment, as well as the port industry’s over reliance on Chinese cranes,” said Carlos Gimenez, a representative from Florida and chairman of the committee.

At issue is the fact that 70 to 80 percent of the large, container cranes used in ports worldwide are now manufactured by ZPMC, a company headquartered in China. Emerging as a lower-cost alternative, and in many cases, the only viable supplier, the company’s large ship-to-shore cranes are deployed in over 100 countries.

"Safeguarding our nation's seaports from foreign cyberattacks and industrial espionage is not a partisan issue,” said John Garamendi, a representative from California who is co-sponsoring the proposed bill as well as a series of other legislation regarding the shipping industry. “The best way to ensure secure critical infrastructure at our major cargo ports is to make these cranes in America.”

The American Association of Port Authorities has repeatedly highlighted that despite the “sensationalized claims” there is no evidence of the cranes being used to harm or track port operations. They also emphasized that all the software undergoes rigorous security inspections with federal government partners and that much of it comes from companies in Japan and Sweden. They have also pointed out that cranes don’t track the origin, destination, or nature of the cargo.

The text of the proposed Port Crane Security & Inspection Act of 2023 addressed any crane manufactured by a “foreign adversary,” and also a “crane for which any information technology and operational technology components in such crane is connected into cyber infrastructure at a port located in the United States.” If adopted into law, the bill would require the CISA to inspect all new cranes for potential security risks. In addition, ports would be barred from operating foreign manufactured cranes after the passage of the bill, and within five years to stop operating foreign software.

Among the specific provisions, within 180 days of passage of the law, an assessment would have to be completed of existing foreign cranes in use at U.S. ports and any crane deemed to be a security risk would need to be taken offline until it could be certified as no longer being a threat. Also, within one year a report would have to be delivered to Congress regarding foreign crane security risks or threats.

AAPA has highlighted that the Chinese company has built its lead as being the only major manufacturer of large cranes. They have called on Congress to focus on efforts to reshore the manufacturing of cranes to the U.S. as a means of supporting American industry and ports.