Non-Intrusive Inspection


Customs X-Ray Inspection and Logistics Process in brief

Non Intrusive Inspection requires coordination of several Customs activities. The effectiveness of the operation requires that risk profilers, the scanner unit, and inspection officers work in concert with one another to ensure a smooth transfer of information, and to respond and react spontaneously to accomplish the mitigation of risk.It also requires cooperation of external stakeholders. To this end importers, exporters, freight forwarders/agents, road carriers, container operators and port terminal operators are affected to the extent that provision needs to be made for possible inspection. In the past and even today many of the supply chain entities still work within the strict parameters of their own paradigms.

Customs Risk assessment & Pre-selection

Pivotal to success is the ability for Customs to pre-select or target high risk consignments for inspection. Pre-selection is based on the principle of risk assessment. Customs risk analysts primarily use advance goods declaration and cargo manifest information to target ‘high risk’ goods. To ensure adequate opportunity to perform risk assessment, cargo and goods declaration information must be reported to SARS electronically.

Customs Detention and Inspection Instruction

Once a consignment has been targeted, Customs will electronically notify the release authority – the Shipping Line. Each ‘hold’, or ‘stop’ – as it is referred to in Customs – will generate a case file in which all relevant information pertaining to the consignment, as well as inspection instructions will be appended. A case management software solution will control the movement and update of each ‘case’ from point of initiation, through scanning, and any subsequent form of intrusive inspection (tailboard or full unpack) as may be required until the risk/threat is mitigated.

Port Terminal A-Check Staging Area

Simultaneously, a CBCU officer stationed at the container terminal’s administrative check office, otherwise known as A-Check, is notified of the case details and will apply a ‘hold’ against the container/s on the Port’s container management system. Upon delivery (export), or collection (import) at the port, truck drivers associated with containers subjected to a ‘hold’, are referred by the Terminal Operator to the Customs Help desk. Customs performs a match against the Container Terminal Order (CTO) and will issue an instruction to the truck driver to proceed to the Scanner Site. The vehicle movement between A-Check and the Terminal Gates will be monitored by the Port Gate Automation System (which incorporates OCR and swipe card technology) to ensure no diversion occurs. At the gate the driver will be automatically issued a Terminal Instruction Document (TID) which specifies which staging area the driver must proceed to inside the terminal.

Arrival of container at the Scanner Site

In the case of an import container the driver will first proceed to the staging area to collect the container, and then head for the scanner site. In the case of an export container , the truck driver proceeds immediately to the Scanner Site. The truck driver will be met by the CBCU Profiler at the entrance gate to the Scanner Site, who will capture relevant transport and container information on a handheld device. This information is automatically updated to the scanner inspection database. The driver will park his vehicle in the arrival waiting area and present his CTO documentation to the CBCU Administration Officer at the “Check-in” Counter. The administrator captures relevant trader and cargo information which is automatically uploaded to the scanner inspection data base. The administrator accesses the case management system and approves the case for inspection and will notify the Team Commander, Inward Marshall and Control Cabin.

Aligning the vehicle for X-Ray scanning

The driver re-enters his vehicle and is assisted by the Inward Traffic Marshal in lining up his vehicle in the scanning position. The Exit Traffic Marshall escorts the driver to a waiting area while the Scanning operation commences.Initiating the scan and analysis of the image The Team Commander is informed that the exclusion zone is clear and safe for scanning. The Scanner Operator initiates the scan. The scanner system runs a scanning pass of the targeted container in under 2 minutes. The scanner’s linear accelerator emits a swath of radiation energy through a collimator. The radiation energy is detected by a bank of radiation detectors. The signal from the detectors is processed by electronics and an image formation sub-system. The object being scanned scatters rays out of the beam which produce “shadows” in the image recorded. The image is formed by the accumulation of hundreds of swath radiation images. Simultaneous to image formation, the scanner’s Radiation Monitor Sub-system (RMS) sweeps the truck and container for presence and localisation of radioactive material. A clean image reveals a green spectrum, whereas radioactive presence will cause a yellow to red band in the spectrum.The Image Analyst scrutinizes the image for anomalies in shape and contrast. Several software imaging tools are at his/her disposal to refine the image to identify more conclusively any anomaly or area of suspicion.

Outcome and finalisation of scanning process

The Image Analyst records the outcome of the scan and saves it together with the scanned image to the Customs Scanner Server. The Administrator is notified of the outcome, and updates the case management system accordingly. The administrator advises A-Check that the container may exit the port (imports), or proceed to the container stack (exports). The shipping line is informed of the status. Where an image yields a suspicious result, the Team Commander, on the advice of the Image Analyst, may cause the container to be transferred under Customs escort to a Container Unpack Depot for a physical inspection. The case will then be transferred to CBCU inspectors who will be responsible for finalising the inspection.

Inspection result and feedback

The case management solution performs a critical role in providing automatic access to officers concerning the status of all inspection cases. More importantly, Risk Analysts are able to check the effectiveness of their risk profiles against the inspection results, and revise or refine their targeting approach to improve future results.

Providing an emphasis on Customs technique is as important as the overall procurement of X-Ray equipment

The cost of a mobile x-ray scanner is in the region of R15 million. Add to this at least 1-2 million for the civil construction, scanner tarmac, perimeter fencing and security equipment as well as mobile office facilities. The investment has only commenced. To staff such a facility adequately for at least 2 x 8-hour shifts is roughly another R3-4 million per annum. It is therefore quite evident that such an undertaking by a Customs administration is no small affair. Regular maintenance to the scanning equipment and radiation safety equipment are paramount to the ongoing performance and efficiency of high-tech non-intrusive inspection equipment. Now consider that South Africa has a vast land and sea perimeter spanning at least 8,000 kms most of which is unprotected, and you begin to gauge the enormity of such a task as border control.

SARS investment in scanner technology has been matched by a solid investment in the training of X-Ray scanner operators and image reviewers. The mechanical operation and image interpretation skills are one facet of the training. The organisation was indeed fortunate in securing the services of a world-renowned expert on large-scale scanner equipment, one Tony Bryant. Tony, himself a former HMCE officer and programme manager of the UK Custom’s non-intrusive inspection capability spent a few months at SARS in support of the development of the SARS Customs Border Control Unit’s Scanner Division development. While the scanner service provider trained Customs staff on the use of the equipment, Tony supplemented this training with a dedicated focus on nurturing the image analysts in the art of identifying aberrations and anomalies in X-Ray images. Staff involved with traffic and pedestrian flow were provided acute spatial awareness training and rigorous discipline in the use of  phonetic code in order to expedite instructions and orders across two-way radio.

Providing practical advice to the SARS Scanner Project Team

Tony providing Image Analysis and safety Awareness training

The Procurement Process and World Developments

The 1990s

SARS had an abnormally long feasibility and procurement phase in its quest to acquire ‘Non-Intrusive Inspection Equipment). Initial overtures were made by the French (SYCOSCAN) in 1997, at the time Charles Stride was calling the shots in the newly formed SARS. The Treasury Department went as far as okaying a week-long joyride for a SARS contingent to visit some European seaports; but little came of it. More or less at the same time Portnet likewise showed interest in such a piece of equipment. They also went on an overseas jaunt (to the west) to see how things are done. The contingent returned and a old acquaintance of mine, Thys Cronje, prepared a proposal for the Portnet management. Their overture worked and before long a deal was struck with a US outfit American Science and Engineering. By the end of 1998, a relocatable backscatter scanner, was installed alongside Langeberg Road some 800m in front of Durban Container Terminal entrance. Formal operation began sometime in 2000, under a tripartite arrangement between Portnet, SARS and the SA Police Service.

2002 – 9/11 and the birth of Supply Chain Security

September 11, 2001 was for most people an extraordinary day. I was a freelance customs consultant trying to etch a living out of traders who had by some misfortune overpaid ‘caesar’ or found themselves in difficulties with SARS. As I watched, like many others, in amazement (and some horror) at the events unfolding in New York, little did I realise that this event would find me back at SARS a year later. Such was the event which perpetuated a worldwide ‘tsunami’ of panic and ‘how are we going to defend our citizens for such further attack?’ Needless to say, the politicians and ‘big business’ – predominantly scientific and information technology – needed little persuasion in using the tragedy for financial and political gain. On the political front think tanks in the US were busy contriving all sorts of anti-terrorism pacts and legislation. An article in the Washington Post (9 June 2002) gives a clear insight into the secret developments that eventually brought about the Department of Homeland Security. On the business front, US scanner providers, and other security companies found themselves in enviable positions, securing lucrative opportunities and deals abroad.

2003/05 – The Container Security Initiative and the World Customs Organisation

No sooner had the newly formed Bureau for Customs and Border Protection (USCBP) secured bilateral cooperation deals, under the banner of the Container Security Initiative (CSI), with some of the world’s Top 20 Ports, SARS with the backing of government, sought voluntary participation in this initiative. Pravin Gordhan, then Commissioner for SARS had entered his second successive term as Chairperson of the World Customs Organisation (WCO). Heading up the world’s Customs club meant doing something proactive at home in South Africa. Together with Doug Browning (Deputy Commissioner of the CBP) Gordhan made significant strides in etching out a plan to include customs administrations of the lesser developed countries to also partake and actively participate in the new developments. The WCO set up a high-ranking committee to establish a framework within which it would define and administer the revolutionary changes taking place in Customs Inc. The work of this committee ultimately resulted in the publication of the SAFE Framework of Standards, and the Johannesburg Convention. Back in Washington, the CSI Top 20 Ports Initiative gave way to a more inclusive CSI Expansion programme. The Port of Durban, South Africa became the second voluntary participant in CSI, after Gothenburg, Sweden. While the USCBP railroaded its CSI programme abroad and the C-TPAT upon its domestic stakeholders, several countries sought about ways to improve their respective approach to supply chain security. SARS had already commenced with the re-write of its age old Customs & Excise Act. On a strategic front it prepared a ‘Green Paper’ on how the Customs Division of SARS would address the changing trade and customs enforcement landscape of the 21st century. Logically, SARS revived its appetite for operating its own X-Ray scanners.

2006 – SARS and its Quest for Non-Intrusive Inspection Capability

With the fanfare and novelty of Durban’s CSI accreditation fast diminishing, the availability and lack of reliability of the Portnet Scanner became a growing concern. CSI operations focus on export bound containers destined for ports in North America. The limited time available time between the selection and notification by US Customs of a ‘targeted’ container and the container physically being discharge for shipment at the port leaves very little margin for error. The implication is simple – the container misses its vessel, the exporter incurs demurrage and storage, and possibly loses the deal with the consignee. Government had little question in granting SARS approval for the procurement of cargo and vehicle scanners.

The initial view was that the ownership, safety and physical operation of such equipment lay outside of SARS core competency. This perpetuated a view that a Public Private Partnership would be the most cost-effective option for SARS. It implied that the ownership, upkeep and operation of the equipment would be outsourced to a private partner who would guarantee ‘availability’ of NII capability for SARS Customs as and when required. National Treasury backed the idea from the beginning and supported SARS through the various stages of the PPP process. A successful feasibility study lead to a call for tender. In government contract terms this was a highly complex tender weighing heavily on the private partner’s ability to deliver the equipment, secure the rights to operate on leased land, secure the necessary reticulation services and ensure occupational health and safety of staff operating at the scanner sites. The complexity was compounded by the need for equipment to operate at land, rail and sea ports. After a long and arduous tender evaluation process, SARS was not satisfied that the outcome of the awarding of the tender would result in ‘value for money’. After much deliberation the tender was withdrawn much to the consternation of the bidders and allied industries.Some had spent as much as R5 million on their bid!

Within 5 months, SARS issued a new tender. This time the tender request focussed purely on the procurement of scanners and services. Experience from the first tender had taught SARS just how fiercely contested such procurements can be. The Cargo Scanner industry is a very competitive industry, unregulated and having poor visibility to prospective clients, particularly governments. Google-ing info is virtually a waste of time. Barring a few pictures one might be able to glean a few specifications and that’s all. Market share amongst the half a dozen (or so) manufacturers worldwide is nowadays swayed in favour of the Chinese.The American and European companies have been forced top eat humble pie, having been beaten soundly at their own game. Post 9/11 security paranoia ought to have swelled the US scanner manufacturer’s coffers, instead it is the Asian continent that has the significant market share in the cargo and container scanner business.

2007 – Finally, a Positive Result!

After some 6 years of toil, SARS signed an agreement with Nuctech, China for the procurement and installation of a mobile X-Ray scanner at Durban Container Terminal. The agreement included the option for SARS to procure additional scanners over a period of 5 years.

Yours truely with the programme manager – Andre Kritzinger

Dec 2007 – SARS signs deal with Nuctech

Having accomplished the deal, working over a 3rd successive Christmas was not too painful with the knowledge that a scanner was on its way to South Africa. Intensive technical and operational training occurred over a 3 week period in early 2008. Parallel to this, the new scanner site was beginning to take shape at Durban Container Terminal. A key criteria for success was the good cooperative relationship which SARS was able to broker with the National Ports Authority (NPA) and Transnet Port Terminals (TPT). The former attended to all civil construction, water, electricity and sanitary reticulation services, while the latter ensured SARS received privileged service and access to the port.

Peter Lake – SARS Scanner Implementation Manager

Please view related links 


    1. Hi Michelle, I couldnt agree with you more. I do however believe that such equipment can only be effiently and effectively used with automated risk management. SARS is in thje process of stabilising and rolling out its new electronic inspection and case system. Hopefully the drive for more scanners will follow soon.


Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.