Coming upon increased nervousness that international terrorists may be planning to use merchant ships to deliver weapons, comes word that Osama bin Laden may have already purchased as many as fifteen merchant ships. Al Qaeda could use these ships to deliver weapons of mass destruction (or just a large cargo of explosives) to seaports. In fact, the world's container ships could be the next terrorist vehicles. The US Coast Guard is said to be employing highly sensitive equipment to check ships on a random basis for radioactive material.
In 1998, bin Laden is believed to have used freighters to smuggle into Africa the explosives that blew-up US embassies in Tanzania and Kenya. Only two percent of the world's cargo ships are even inspected before sailing. Ships flagged by Senegal, Liberia, and St. Vincent are said to be under particular suspicion.
Making matters even more uncertain, the two largest suppliers of seamen manning the world's cargo fleet are the Philippines and Indonesia, both at the top of the list of countries generating homicidal Islamic fanatics.
Now comes word via London that bin Laden has been systematically and determinedly buying his own fleet of ships with which to wage terror. Scotland Yard has warned that such a ship could be sailed up the Thames to destroy Parliament and much of London.
US intelligence experts are said to believe that the explosives used in the Bali nightclub were brought in by ship. Having captured al-Qaeda's "chief of naval operations," Abdulrahim Mohammed Abda Al-Nasheri, they also are said to believe he is responsible for the 2000 bombing of USS Cole and the death of 17 of its crew.
Every year the world's 7,500 container ships make more than 51,000 port calls, off-loading over six million loaded marine containers in US ports alone. -- K.B. Sherman