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The Threat Vectors in the Port of Miami

The level of maritime shipping has increased considerably during the past decades. One of the major factors for this growth was the use of shipping containers that enables companies to decrease their costs (Haas, 2013). Haas (2013) notes that the amount of maritime exchange reached almost 9 billion tons in 2011. For instance, almost 9 million tons of cargo entered and left the USA through the port of Miami (Port Miami, 2016). This port is one of the major maritime facilities that has advanced technology, including cranes necessary for containers shipment. This port is a significant commercial hub, which can make it a potential target of some groups.

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Possible Threat Vectors

One of the major challenges of the modern world is global terrorism. There are always chances of military conflicts with other countries, but these scenarios are less likely than terrorist attacks. The latter can take quite different forms as ports can be attacked with the help of small boats, hijacked large vessels, floating IEDs, and the so-called CBRN (chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear) agents. Analysts claim that ports are less vulnerable than vessels in the sea, but various threats still exist (CBRNe Portal, 2012). For example, hijacked vessels carrying chemical or radiological agents can pose a significant threat to port infrastructure and cause casualties. However, security systems of the port of Miami are quite sophisticated, so hijacked vessels are unlikely to enter the port area (Port Miami, 2017a). Terrorist groups will also need to have various professionals to hijack, control, and use the hazardous cargo properly (CBRNe Portal, 2012). Terrorists’ small boat attacks are most likely to cause quite limited damage to the infrastructure and will be detected and destroyed quite easily.

Cyberattacks are often seen as one of the central threats to ports. Clearly, the use of technology is essential for the system of maritime exchange, which makes it quite vulnerable. Numerous cyberattacks have been successful in different areas so any system can be damaged. However, the US government is paying considerable attention to the cybersecurity of its strategic infrastructure. The port of Miami has effective cybersecurity strategies and technologies (Port Miami, 2017a). Therefore, it is possible to note that this vulnerability is controllable.

Major Threat Vector

CBRNE attacks pose the most serious threat to the port of Miami. The facility accepts millions of vessels annually, and it is impossible to check all of them (Haas, 2013). The gaps in the system of cargo control are obvious as the volume of drug trafficking is rather substantial. Thus, terrorists can load some explosives in several containers. The use of dirty bombs can make the impact more serious especially when it comes to economic outcomes (CBRNe Portal, 2012). Terrorists can place such bombs in several containers to make the damaged area, as well as financial losses, considerable. It is necessary to note that casualties will not be numerous, which makes this target less attractive to terrorists who aim at causing panic. Nevertheless, any significant damage to such maritime hub as the port of Miami can have various adverse effects on the economic well-being of the region.

Critical Infrastructure

One of the distinctive features of the port of Miami is its cranes that enabled the port to reach the cargo tonnage mentioned above. The cranes have a lift capacity of one hundred tons (Port Miami, 2017b). Therefore, these cranes can be regarded as critical infrastructure as the port will lose its significance if these facilities are damaged or destroyed. As has been mentioned above, the control over the content of the containers is not perfect, and explosives can enter the port area quite easily. Terrorists can detonate the explosives placed in different containers to increase their chances of hitting the cranes (or some of them). This scenario is possible but can be quite easy to implement as the location of containers at different periods of time can be traced with the help of RFID technologies. The explosives can be detonated when placed near the cranes. Terrorists can access the area and put the explosives that entered the port in one of the containers.


On balance, the port of Miami can become an attractive target of terrorist in the recent future. Although the possibility of wide military conflicts and associated risks exists, terrorist attacks are more likely to occur. The port of Miami has a considerable capacity due to the use of cranes that can handle containers. Damage to these cranes, as well as other facilities or the port infrastructure, can result in considerable financial losses as well as certain casualties. Cyberattacks are associated with considerable threats as the cyberworld is rather vulnerable. However, the security system of the port is quite sophisticated and can address diverse challenges. At the same time, the control over container content is not proper. Terrorists can use dirty bombs to cause physical damage and contamination of a large part of the port, which will potentially lead to substantial financial losses and economic issues for the entire state. Multiple attacks on several ports can cause considerable issues to the entire nation so these threats should receive more attention.


CBRNe Portal. (2012). The risks of maritime CBRN terrorism – is shipping the weak link? Web.

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Haas, M. (2013). Shipping as a repository of strategic vulnerability. Web.

Port Miami. (2016). 2016 statistics. Web.

Port Miami. (2017a). Cargo safety & security. Web.

Port Miami. (2017b). New Super Post-Panamax cranes. Web.

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