Skip to comments.Terror lurks on high seas
Posted on 09/21/2003 4:36:46 AM PDT by sarcasm
Terrorism experts fear that the world's oil tankers, sea lanes and major ports are dangerously vulnerable to 9/11-scale attacks that would cripple world trade.
They cite an alarming combination of factors, including terrorist-connected Southeast Asian rebels involved in piracy, the difficulty of tracking suspect vessels in the murky world of commercial shipping, and an Al Qaeda fleet that could be as large as 300 vessels.
Plots that have already been carried out include the October 2000 attack on the U.S. destroyer Cole in the port of Aden in Yemen, which killed 17 sailors, and the attack last October on the French supertanker Limburg.
Plans that experts fear could be in the works include sinking a massive tanker in one of the chokepoints in the world sea lanes or packing a ship with explosives and sailing into a vital harbor and detonating it.
"Unless the international community invests more resources to monitor and track terrorist ships today, we are likely to suffer another 9/11 inside a port like the New York Harbor in the coming months," said Dr. Rohan Gunaratna, author of "Inside Al Qaeda: Global Network of Terror," who has been studying maritime anti-terrorism efforts.
This summer, the world was reminded of the potential dangers when Greek authorities seized a suspicious ship headed for Sudan in the Mediterranean Sea. It was found to be loaded with 750 tons of ammonium nitrate and 140,000 detonators.
NATO, which has been conducting surveillance of merchant vessels in the Mediterranean since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, is monitoring 50 ships suspected of having ties to terrorism.
Frighteningly, the vessel stopped by the Greeks was not on the NATO blacklist.
Al Qaeda line
"There's been a lot of talk about the Al Qaeda fleet of merchant vessels," said Tanner Campbell, vice president of the Washington-based Maritime Intelligence Group. "They have owned and operated vessels in the past directly and indirectly."
Terror chief Osama Bin Laden is believed to have ties to anywhere from 15 to 300 vessels, ranging from a shadowy fleet of small fishing trawlers to freighters, experts say.
Locally, the Port Authority has increased security measures at its terminals since the Sept. 11 attacks. Ships coming into the harbor now must alert authorities of their arrival 96 hours in advance. The agency also has increased inspections of cargo from ships and trucks entering the sprawling port.
Since last summer, U.S. intelligence agencies have been picking up chatter from terrorists about ships, ports, bridges and divers.
Then, in November, authorities arrested Abdul Rahim Mohammed Hussein Abda Al-Nasheri, Al Qaeda's chief of naval operations who planned the Cole bombing.
Nicknamed the Prince of the Sea, Al-Nasheri has allegedly confessed to planning more attacks on U.S. and British warships as they traveled through the Strait of Gibraltar.
Maritime security experts say an attack in a major shipping lane like the Strait of Gibraltar would cause a huge bottleneck of freighters and tankers that could have a catastrophic impact on the world economy.
NATO has become so concerned about maritime attacks in the Mediterranean that this past spring it began stopping and boarding suspicious ships, and escorting tankers through the strait.
Perhaps the most vulnerable sea lane is the Strait of Malacca, according to George Friedman, head of Stratfor, a business intelligence firm.
"If you were to close the Strait of Malacca, the disruption to international trade would be astronomical," Friedman said.
The strait passes by Aceh, an oil-rich region at the tip of the Indonesian island of Sumatra, where rebels have been waging a bloody civil war.
The Free Aceh Movement - which has been linked to Jemaah Islamiyah, the Islamic group charged with the bombings of two Bali nightclubs last October - have increasingly turned to piracy.
On Sept. 2, the London-based International Maritime Bureau, which tracks crime at sea, issued warnings to shippers that attacks against small oil tankers were on the increase in the Straits of Malacca. The attacks "follow a pattern set by Indonesian Aceh rebels," according to the bureau report.
Rebels board tanker
In mid-August, a band of 14 men with assault rifles dressed in fatigues and claiming to be Aceh rebels boarded a Malaysian tanker carrying 1,000 tons of fuel oil and took the ship's master, chief engineer and a crewman hostage for a week, and released them only after receiving a $100,000 ransom, according to Agence France-Presse.
Perhaps more ominous, the Lloyd's List shipping registry of London reported in February that a group of Indonesians who fought with the Taliban in Afghanistan and call themselves Group 272 are believed to be plotting to destroy an oil tanker in the Strait of Malacca.
Japan, which gets all of its oil via the Strait of Malacca, is preparing to send a fleet to bolster security there.
The Gulf of Aden, where both the Cole and Limburg were attacked, also remains a hot spot of terror and piracy, said the bureau's deputy director.
With 120,000 merchant vessels in the world, many of them operating with questionable or phony documents, maritime anti-terrorism forces are facing an overwhelming task.
"We have a global maritime surveillance capability that was basically designed to keep track of a few hundred big Soviet warships," said John Pike, director of Globalsecurity.org, a Washington research group. "Now you've got thousands of little no-name ships all over the world and you have no idea who they belong to and what they're carrying."
|Weekly Piracy Report [Electrified Ships, Ship Lojack]
|Posted by MalcolmS
On 09/19/2003 10:35 AM EDT with 29 comments
|Piracy At Sea Reaches Record High
|Posted by Loyalist
On 07/24/2003 11:42 AM EDT with 54 comments
|Piracy at sea reached record levels in first quarter of 2003
|Posted by yankeedame
On 05/03/2003 1:51 PM EDT with 20 comments
BBC News On-Line ^ | Thursday, 1 May, 2003 | staff writer
|Weekly Piracy Report
|Posted by Lokibob
On 04/22/2003 3:06 PM EDT with 9 comments
|Signs of More Maritime Terror Attacks
|Posted by Conservative News Hound
On 01/15/2003 4:02 PM EST with 14 comments
|Piracy making return on high seas
|Posted by BansheeBill
On 12/17/2002 12:41 AM EST with 6 comments
Okay, so live in fear of hijacking. Or, mount a few .50's on each tanker, put 24/7 observers-gunners who know what they're doing on duty, send out international warnings that if someone approaches said tanker without explicit permission, hell will rain upon them. If it's a really big target, mount a 3-inch gun in addition to the .50's What's the problem?
It's the tone of these articles that bothers me. "The bad guys are everywhere, so let's all be afraid!" I think it's a better idea to make THEM afraid.
Repeat after me: there is no evidence of terrorism, there is no evidence of terrorism;islam is a religion of peace, islam is a religion of peace...
By JAMES D. HESSMAN
Senior Writer & Editor Emeritus
The 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks against the United States killed more than 3,000 people and, according to Under Secretary of Defense Dov S. Zakheim, caused a "negative economic impact ... [of] three quarters of a trillion dollars, and climbing."
However, official Washington is far more concerned with preventing the next attack than toting up the cost of the last one. For example, the detonation of a nuclear weapon, concealed in any one of the estimated six million containers carried into the nation's seaports each year, could kill "tens of thousands of people" and virtually paralyze the U.S. economy, according to a new CRS (Congressional Research Service) report on Port and Maritime Security.
How to keep a "maritime 9/11" from happening is perhaps the most intractable problem facing the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and two of its principal components, the U.S. Coast Guard and the new Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agency (formerly the U.S. Customs Service). One of the Coast Guard's principal missions is to protect U.S. ports and waterways; CBP has the primary responsibility for the inspection of cargoes, and of cargo containers, entering U.S. ports.
The dimensions of the extraordinarily difficult task confronting the two agencies were spelled out in grim detail in the 5 February CRS report, written by transportation analyst John F. Fritelli:
An estimated 7,500 foreign-flag ships, manned by 200,000 foreign sailors, make more than 60,000 port calls annually at the 361 ports in the U.S. port system.
More than three billion tons of oil and two billion tons of other cargo pass through those ports each year. Overall U.S. maritime trade, which now accounts for approximately 25 percent of the nation's gross domestic product, is expected to more than double within the next two decades.
* The more than six million cargo containers that enter the nation's seaports each year represent two thirds of the total value (as opposed to tonnage) of all U.S. maritime trade. CBP "physically inspects" only about two percent of the containers.
To meet the unprecedented challenge facing them, the Coast Guard and CBP have allocated additional manpower to their respective port- and cargo-security missions, and have initiated several programs designed to tighten security not only of port areas but also of merchant ships, the cargoes they carry, and their crews. The Coast Guard, for example, started a Sea Marshals program to put USCG security teams aboard merchant ships before they enter U.S. ports. The service also extended, to 96 hours, the previous 24-hour NOA (Notice of Arrival) system, which requires ships entering and leaving U.S. ports to provide detailed information about their cargo, crewmembers, and passengers (if any).
In addition, the Coast Guard: (1) has been carrying out its own assessments of port security to determine specific vulnerabilities; (2) has contracted with TRW Systems to carry out more detailed risk assessments of the nation's 55 largest ports; and (3) is working with the International Maritime Organization (IMO--an agency of the United Nations) to develop and enforce more stringent international standards that would improve port, ship, cargo, and personnel security.
Rear Adm. Larry L. Hereth, the service's director of port security, said last month at the Navy League's Sea-Air-Space Exposition in Washington, D.C., that 102 nations already are cooperating in "a huge international effort" to set standards for merchant ships that will improve port, ship, and cargo security on a global basis.
The common-sense approach taken by DHS is to detect and deter potential threats long before they escalate into clear and present dangers. In the maritime arena, this requires "identifying and intercepting threats well before they reach U.S. shores," said Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Thomas H. Collins in his Maritime Strategy for Homeland Security, released in December 2002.
CBP also follows a forward-deployed strategy, according to U.S. Customs Commissioner Robert C. Bonner. At the 1 April Liner CEO Forum in Boston, he said that the agency's "primary inspectors ... at all ports of entry into the United States" are now equipped with radiation detection devices. He also told the Liner CEOs that a number of CBP personnel are working overseas with their "host-nation counterparts" to target so-called "high-risk" containers before they can be loaded aboard ship and transported to the United States.
CBP is now "close" to implementing its Container Security Initiative (CSI) at "most of the top 20 foreign ports representing over two-thirds of all cargo containers shipped to the United States," Bonner said. CSI requires, among other things, that incoming containers be screened "before they depart for U.S. ports of entry, rather than after they arrive on U.S. shores."
CBP, the Coast Guard, and other DHS agencies are relying on the private sector--as is the Department of Defense--to develop, test, and build the platforms, weapon systems, sensors, and electronics/ avionics systems needed both to fight the global war on terrorism and to protect the U.S. homeland. Under a program monitored by the Department of Energy's Pacific Northwest National Laboratories of Richland, Wash., for example, CBP has contracted for a large number of radiation-portal monitors to scan containers entering U.S. ports. The monitors, built by the Ludlum Company of Sweetwater, Texas, are designed to detect nuclear weapons, dirty bombs, and other radiation-emitting systems and devices.
In addition, CBP spokesman William Anthony told Sea Power, "every major port" in the United States is now using X-ray-like VACIS (vehicle and cargo inspection station) machines--built by American Science and Engineering Inc. of Billerica, Mass.--to scan incoming containers for the detection of weapons, explosives, and other contraband.
Following are a few examples of other companies now working in the field of port and cargo security:
RVision LLC of San Jose, Calif., has developed, and is marketing to the U.S. military and other customers, a rugged, all-weather, pan/tilt/zoom video camera designed for the outdoor surveillance of large "infrastructure" areas such as bridges, tunnels, ports, dams, seaports, and airports. Because of the potentially large manpower savings that could be achieved, the U.S. Navy and U.S. Coast Guard are among the prospective customers for the camera--which, a company spokesman said, "can be exposed to the harshest elements from extreme temperatures to caustic environments such as salt air."
GE Ion Track of Wilmington, Mass., has developed several high-tech systems used to detect not only explosives but also narcotics, a combination particularly attractive to agencies, such as CBP and the Coast Guard, involved in counternarcotics as well as counterterrorism operations. The company's EntryScan uses a natural airflow phenomenon called "the human convection plume" to detect, within seconds, microscopic traces of nitroglycerin, TNT, cocaine, heroin (and other explosives and/or narcotics) on anyone walking through an EntryScan gate at an airport, seaport, embassy, nuclear plant, or other high-security area. GE Ion Track uses the same technology in its handheld VaporTracer system and its Itemiser desktop explosive and narcotics detection system. The lightweight, portable, and extremely sensitive VaporTracer already is being used by CBP, the Coast Guard, and the Federal Aviation Administration.
Guardian Solutions of Sarasota, Fla., announced the recent sale of its GuardianWATCH video surveillance system to Port Manatee, Fla., which will use it for the real-time detection and tracking of both landside and waterside threats. The system provides "100 percent site surveillance, 100 percent of the time," said Guardian Solutions President John Montelione. "It simultaneously controls all of a site's video cameras, acquires and processes all video in real time, detects and tracks intruders ... and notifies responders," he told Sea Power. GuardianWATCH can detect up to 25 intruders per camera, works at night and in inclement weather, differentiates between small animals, humans, vehicles, and vessels, and is particularly useful in outdoor environments--dense woods, blowing grasslands, and shorelines--where video motion detectors often fail.
300 ships??? I find this very difficult to believe. Maybe if you include rafts, rowboats, and canoes.
The French named a supertanker after "stinky cheese"!?
That rings a bell- I did not see a link in my search, but I also didn't look past December, 2002.