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September 12, 2002

Radiation probe of suspect box ship continues
MSNBC.com is reporting that U.S. Special Operations forces today joined members of the Energy Department’s NEST (Nuclear Emergency Search Team) in searching the containership Palermo Senator.

The NEST squad was established in 1974 to seek out and dismantle “improvised nuclear devices,” but has been used over the years to investigate suspicious radiological sources.

The 1992-built Liberian-flag Palermo Senator is managed by Rostock, Germany, based Laeisz Reederei, one of the most historic names in German shipping.The registered owner of the containership is Sadir Shipping, which shares the same office address as Laeisz.

The ship was boarded Tuesday by a Coast Guard team and was directed to Berth 92 at the Port Newark/Elizabeth Marine Terminal. The next day it was sent back to sea and ordered to stay in a security zone six miles offshore while the inspection continues.

Initial wire stories said Coast Guard team members heard suspicious sounds in several of the ship’s cargo holds, but could not determine their source. While no evidence of stowaways was found, they determined that the ship’s cargo posed a potential risk to public safety, said the stories.

The MSNBC story, based on information given to NBC by unnamed Pentagon officials, says the decision to search the ship was based primarily on intelligence suggesting a ship matching its description could be carrying nuclear material or a nuclear device into the United States.

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