AAPA says no evidence of China’s ship-to-shore cranes being used as ‘spying tools’

The American Association of Port Authorities (AAPA) dismissed fears regarding potential security threats from cranes sourced from China caused by media reports that the cranes might be used for spying.

Illustration; Image credit NWSA

“There have been no known security breaches as the result of any cranes at U.S. ports, despite alarmist media reports. Further, modern cranes are very fast and sophisticated but even they can’t track the origin, destination, or nature of the cargo,” AAPA said.

Over the past few days, headlines citing U.S. officials have been inciting fears about potential spying from Chinese-made cranes at U.S. ports, suggesting that China could use the high vantage point to gather intelligence and surveil American activities.

Some national security and Pentagon officials have compared ship-to-shore cranes made by the China-based manufacturer, ZPMC, to a Trojan horse, as they contain sophisticated sensors that could register and track containers, raising concerns that China could collect information about materials shipped in support of U.S. military operations around the world.

The association added that China has subsidized crane manufacturing in a way that makes their cranes half the cost, and that the U.S. should build out its reshoring tools to bolster the manufacturing of critical equipment to correct this imbalance.

To that end, AAPA has announced plans to introduce soon the Crane Reshoring and National Enforcement of Supply Chain Security (CRANES) Act of 2023 to jump-start American production of port equipment.

“Without reshoring our domestic manufacturing capacity, legislative proposals to hastily remove cranes from U.S. ports without immediate replacements would harm U.S. supply chains, jack up prices for everyone, and exacerbate inflation even further,” AAPA stressed.

“I like a good spy movie, but you need a smoking gun to make it a blockbuster, and there’s no smoke in this story,” said Cary Davis, AAPA’s VP & General Counsel. 

“But remember the image of the powerful middle-America factory in the movie The Deerhunter? Just picture American factories churning out world-class, connected, low-emissions, and user-friendly cranes, trucks, and tractors. That’s the opportunity we have here.”

As explained, the port industry has managed to assess security vulnerabilities from every threat vector through its government partnerships.

“Recent reports – citing sources that have worked directly with the industry – have at times conflated the approved equipment at ports with other Chinese technology that has consciously been rejected in the U.S. because of potential misuse. Our indelible partnerships with the government have led to identifying the real threats,” the association pointed out.

AAPA noted that it has dedicated ‘trip wires’ for anything that could threaten port operations, including a Technical Committee on Security and Safety.

The Committee has reported that “[it] take[s] very seriously the concerns raised about Chinese-made cranes operating at U.S. ports. In partnership with Federal, state, and local law enforcement, ports have taken steps to detect and mitigate potential risks posed by these cranes. To the best of the committee’s knowledge, no kinetic or cyber incidents involving these cranes have been reported at U.S. ports.”