2008: milestone year for the e-Seal?



Mark Nelson, International Cargo Security Council, Washington, DC, USA


During the past year, several milestones set the course for electronic seals (e-Seals) to help automate the visibility and security status of cargo containers as they move throughout the global supply chain. As a result, 2008 could prove to be the year that shippers more broadly deploy e-Seals in their ongoing efforts to improve chain-of-custody surety, speed customs clearances and enhance operational efficiency.

What is an e-Seal? A sub-set of electronic ‘container security devices,’ e-Seals combine Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) electronics with the traditional  mechanical pin and cap used to lock container doors. The RFID component can send data and automated alerts over radio waves to networks of interrogators which identify a container’s location as well as whether the seal has been tampered with or broken.

Rise of the e-Seal

RFID-based e-Seals have been on the supply chain community’s radar screen since soon after 9/11, but real momentum built up only in the last year. Three  milestones have been passage of the US SAFE Act, approval of ISO 18185, and wider, nondiscriminatory availability of e-Seal patents.

The first milestone occurred last autumn with the passage of the SAFE Port Security Act of 2006 in the United States. The Act permits the use of qualified container security devices and technologies as a way for users to achieve Tier III status under the Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism (C-TPAT) program. By demonstrating this extra measure of security, Tier III C-TPAT participants would face fewer inspections and faster,
more reliable customs clearance.

The SAFE Act does not mandate the use of security technologies – it offers incentives for voluntary use. This approach gives a competitive advantage to early adopters and ensures an achievable, first-step in what promises to be a longterm evolution of container security technologies.

The Act also encourages the US Department of Homeland Security to develop requirements “consistent with standards promulgated by international standards organizations, such as the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), the International Maritime Organization (IMO), and the World Customs Organization (WCO).”

The second milestone occurred in Apr il when the ISO approved technical and application standards for e-Seals under ISO 18185. This did not happen overnight. ISO 18185 was a global three-year effort involving input from ocean carriers, terminal operators and technology providers. ISO 18185 incorporates standards for active RFID operating at the 433 MHz and 2.4 GHz ranges as well as performance standards for mechanical seals.

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