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US warning: Chinese cranes may be watching Rotterdam port

A container ship loading at Rotterdam docks.

Posted on March 25, 2024

The cabinet has taken steps to check Chinese cranes operating in the port of Rotterdam for equipment that may be used for spying or sabotage following reports from the United States of “modems” found in cranes at an unspecified  port.

Rotterdam has some hundred cranes made by Chinese manufacturer Shanghai Zhenhua in operation.

A US Congress document revealed last week that communication modems had been found in the ZMPA cranes and in the server room of an unidentified American port where their presence was unexplained.

According to the intelligence services, the equipment could be used by China to influence the American infrastructure through espionage or sabotage.

The Dutch infrastructure ministry said it takes the American findings “very seriously”.  “We are investigating the extent to which these worries apply to the Dutch context,” a spokesman told the Financieele Dagblad.

The ministry, the port authorities and TNO are already looking at “vulnerable interests, threats and resilience”, at the port, he said. That will now include the new information about the ZMPC cranes. The findings will be shared with MPs but not made public for safety reasons.

ZPMC said in a reaction its cranes pose no risk and are made according to “local regulations and the technical specifications of the client” but did not comment on the modems in the United States. Head of the Dutch division Wang Jia Wei said the company had been present in Rotterdam for 10 years “without any problems with clients”.

Marcel Jutte of cybersecurity company Cybertec said the presence of a modem without a specific purpose is not unusual. “The cranes are connected online because they are monitored from a distance, for instance for maintenance. The contract between the port and the crane manufacturer does not always contain all the details of what is in them,” he told the paper.

Jutte said the American intelligence services’ claim is difficult to gauge because they have not produced any proof that the modem was used for spying.

In 2021 the United States also accused ZPMC of spying when security services found espionage equipment in one of the company’s ships. It then warned that China could use the cranes to paralyse ports across the world “at the push of a button”.


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