Zeebrugge port boss says just 1% of containers are x-rayed

Only 1% of sealed containers that travel through the port of Zeebrugge are x-rayed, and none are checked for heat, according to authorities at the Belgian port, through which the 39 people recently found dead in the back of a lorry in Essex are believed to have travelled.

Zeebrugge port CEO Joachim Coens and harbourmaster Peter Degroote defended security at the port, but admitted that sealed containers were not checked inside and x-ray scans were only rarely used, and then only to check for goods, not the presence of humans.

In an interview with The Guardian, Coens confirmed that the container passed through a terminal at the port, run by the company C.RO. “They, of course, do everything possible, together with us, to avoid that people are entering the terminal. That’s the main thing. You can see it’s wired, it’s fenced, it’s locked. It’s a closed terminal.” Coens and Degroote said that €1m was spent each year to protect the terminal, which is one of several at the port, and which processes up to 7,000 containers daily.

Coens said police dealt daily with small groups of migrants attempting to cut holes in fences and gain access to the port. “They are smaller groups, people are mostly coming from conflict areas in north Africa, Eritrea, the Middle East. They [the port security] cope, in the way that they can keep the people out. If they are caught they go to the police.”

Degroote said that lorries arriving with containers were photographed from all angles. Coens explained that lorries with canvas containers were checked inside with CO2 devices to see if humans were present, and sniffer dogs were also deployed. But Coens admitted that asked there were few checks on sealed refrigerated containers.

Degroote said some containers spot-checked by police and customs officials were x-rayed, but he estimated that just 1% of trailers were subject to the procedure. “But that’s not to find people … the customs are focusing on goods. So that’s what their checks are made for.”

Coens suggested that the UK authorities should be more involved in carrying out checks. “It’s one or the other. If you do it here there should be more involvement of the UK side”.