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Port of L.A. seeks to cancel contract for Chinese X-ray unit

The $2.4-million equipment, designed to scan cargo and purchased with a federal national security grant, has failed field tests and will be returned to the manufacturer, port officials announced.

February 05, 2009|Louis Sahagun

The Port of Los Angeles said Wednesday it plans to cancel a controversial contract with a Chinese company to buy an X-ray unit designed to scan cargo for dangerous devices.

Port officials said the $2.4-million Mobile Linear Accelerator X-ray Scanning Unit failed field tests during the 6-month period specified in the April 2008 contract with Beijing-based Nuctech Inc. As a result, the unit, which is currently installed on a diesel truck, will be returned to the manufacturer.

Opponents had argued that the U.S. should not rely on a political adversary such as China to supply equipment used for national security purposes.

In a recent statement, Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, whose 46th District includes the nation's busiest port complex, said, "When the Chinese government quits jailing political opponents and persecuting religious believers, maybe then we can start talking about buying their scanners."

John Pike, director of the military information website globalsecurity.org, said he wouldn't go that far.

"I will not take a back seat when it comes to concerns about Chinese military threats," he said. "But we should not worry about nonstrategic stuff, and focus on the strategic. If the units work, they should buy them at the best price."

The unit, which is now operated by the Los Angeles Port Police, was purchased with funding from the federal Port Security Grant Program.

The port said it plans to search for replacement technology to scan provisions and supplies destined for its World Cruise Center terminal in San Pedro. "In the meantime," the port said in a statement, "supply trucks entering the cruise terminal will be inspected by Port Police personnel and canines as was the practice during the testing of the unit."

The port's plans to cancel the contract were first reported by Government Security News.

In an interview, Rohrabacher, a Republican from Huntington Beach, said the port was not to blame for the controversy over the contract. "This whole controversy happened because of a lack of federal policy in this type of national security equipment," he said. "But I hope that in reaching this decision, the port was sensitive to the criticism it received for this contract.

"On top of that, they got an item that didn't meet specs, which often happens with goods from China," he said.

Through its local representative, DULY Research Inc. of Rancho Palos Verdes, Nuctech submitted the lowest compliant bid of the three companies that responded to the port's procurement request.

It was DULY's first U.S. sale, according to port documents. Nuctech equipment is now installed in more than 60 countries, including Ireland, England, Israel and Australia.

Before agreeing to buy the unit -- which came with a 3-year service, parts and labor warranty -- a team of port authorities and engineers visited Nuctech's factory in Beijing, officials said.

However, the unit failed to meet expectations during field tests at the port. Among other things, the unit failed to operate as specified without the intervention and assistance of a DULY Research/Nuctech technician, officials said.

In an interview, DULY President David Yu said he was dismayed by the port's move.

"This is not right," he said. "We provided the port with the best X-ray scanner in the world. It's been in the port since July 2008, and they still haven't paid us for it.

"All of a sudden they want to cancel the contract," he said. "They say it has 10 deficiencies. We disagree with that.

"The scanner is working fine," he said.

Nuctech is believed to be headed by the son of Chinese President Hu Jintao. A company spokesman in Beijing declined to comment on Hu's son's involvement with the company, but senior Chinese officials confirmed his role in Nuctech two years ago when the company won a government contract to supply X-ray scanners for domestic airports.

The Los Angeles Board of Harbor Commissioners was expected to vote on a proposal to cancel the contract during a regularly scheduled meeting tonight.

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louis.sahagun@latimes.com

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Times staff writer Peter Spiegel, in Beijing, contributed to this report.

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