Port of Seattle deals with bomb scare
Port authorities evacuated the Port of Seattle’s largest container terminal Wednesday, but found no explosives or radioactive material in two suspicious containers, according to news reports from the area.
Bomb-sniffing dogs alerted that the containers from Pakistan could contain explosives. No dangerous material has been detected, but officials are still trying to determine the exact contents of the ocean boxes.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers examined the containers with penetrating gamma ray imaging machines and determined that some of the items do not appear to match the manifest, which lists the contents as oil rags.
The Port of Seattle bomb squad detonated small charges to create tiny holes so investigators could peek inside. The Seattle Fire Department Hazardous Materials Team also responded. Tests for chemicals and radioactive materials came up negative.
Dozens of longshoremen, truckers and other workers were evacuated from Terminal 18 and officials established a 500-yard safety zone on land surrounding the terminal and a 300-yard safety zone along the waterfront, the Seattle Times reported.
The containers were among 70 containers identified by CBP’s National Targeting Center for inspection because they scored high for terrorism risk factors, a CBP spokesman told the paper.
The containers arrived in Seattle on China Shipping’s vessel “Rotterdam.” The containers were delivered to China Shipping on a feeder vessel somewhere in Asia. The “Rotterdam” left Hong Kong July 29 and made stops at two Chinese ports and the Port of Busan in South Korea before heading across the Pacific Ocean to Seattle, the Seattle Times said.
Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., used the incident to press for passage of the stalled GreenLane Maritime Cargo Security Act that she helped author.
“Our port workers, inspectors and the American public deserve to know that the cargo entering our country each day is safe. To protect America, we have to increase our security and know what is in our cargo containers,” she said.
CBP has a program called the Container Security Initiative designed to flag and inspect suspicious cargo at overseas ports before departure. Foreign customs authorities conduct the inspections at the request of CBP officers who are guests in the ports. But so far only a small percentage of the high-risk cargo is actually inspected prior to arrival in the United States because of resource limitations and disputes with host governments about which containers pose a risk. U.S. personnel are stationed in Hong Kong and Busan. There are 44 ports around the world that participate in CSI.
“Cargo on container ships bound for U.S. ports isn’t screened for nuclear bombs until it gets here,” complained Rep. Edward Markey, D-Mass. “If this false alarm were a real nuclear bomb hidden in a container, federal officials wouldn’t have had the chance to evacuate the terminal, let alone all of Seattle . The Bush administration continues to do radiation scanning after cargo containers arrive at our ports. At that point, if there’s a nuclear bomb inside, it’s too late.”
A RAND Corp. study released Wednesday said that a nuclear bomb detonated in a container at the Port of Los Angeles-Long Beach would quickly kill 60,000 people, expose 150,000 more to hazardous levels of radioactive water and sediment from the port, destroy all infrastructure and ships at the twin ports and cause more than $1 trillion in economic damage to the country.
In the wake of the foiled terrorist plot in London to bomb U.S. jetliners in the sky, Markey called on Homeland Secretary Michael Chertoff to immediately institute inspections of 100 percent of cargo before it is loaded on cargo vessels, as well as all cargo transported on passenger planes. Legislation to that effect failed to pass Congress this summer.