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Saturday, October 19, 2002



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PHOTO COURTESY OF KITV/ WSVN MIAMI
A search of a container bound for Honolulu on the 1,065-foot Maren Maersk turned up nothing unusual yesterday. Maersk Sealand is one of the world's biggest container lines, operating more than 250 vessels around the world.




High seas search
turns up empty

A tip said explosive material
was headed for Honolulu


By Rod Antone
rantone@starbulletin.com

FBI officials in Hawaii acknowledge that a threatening letter received in Honolulu led to the boarding and search of a Danish cargo ship in Florida yesterday.

However, a search of a container bound for Honolulu on the 1,065-foot Maren Maersk turned up nothing unusual.

"We did not find anything except large copper sheets," said Broward County Sheriff Ken Jenne.

FBI officials in Miami said authorities had received a tip that an explosive was hidden in a container on the Maren Maersk, which originated its trip in Bremerhaven, Germany and stopped in Halifax, Nova Scotia; New York; Norfolk, Va.; and Charleston, S.C., before heading to Florida.

According to a Naval Criminal Investigative Service e-mail from Washington D.C. sent to high-ranking Pearl Harbor officials, a letter was sent to Honolulu FBI officials on Oct. 15 stating that there would be a "large shipment of explosives" sent to Honolulu for a December attack against a U.S. Navy Base. The e-mail described the explosives as allegedly being packaged as construction materials which would be sent via Germany or France and that the letter was sent by a "self-proclaimed" former al-Qaida member.

"The search of the vessel in Florida was related to the ongoing matter in Honolulu," said FBI agent Jim Stern. However, Stern would not confirm details about the letter nor the Navy communication regarding the letter. Navy officials here in Hawaii also had no comment about the search in Florida.

The U.S. Coast Guard boarded the vessel offshore and brought it in to a pier at Port Everglades, in Fort Lauderdale, said John Gaffney, a Coast Guard spokesman in Florida.

Agents from U.S. Customs, the FBI, the Coast Guard and local police were involved in the alert last night over the vessel, which Jenne said turned out to be a "dry run" for local law enforcement agencies.

At one point for about an hour during the evening, aircraft flying in and out of nearby Fort Lauderdale airport were directed not to fly over the area where the vessel was docked, said FBI spokeswoman Judy Orihuela. The inspection was linked to a tip received by the FBI in Hawaii that there could be an attack to a Naval base in Hawaii, Orihuela said.

Orihuela said law enforcement agents focused on one container among the many stacked up on the Maren Maersk but did not say what made the container suspicious.

"There was a container they were particularly interested in and it was negative," she said.

Orihuela said the container that was the focus of the search was one of several that were to be offloaded and shipped on another vessel to Hawaii. Orihuela said some other containers on the vessels would be inspected but it was not thought they would produce anything threatening.

The vessel is owned by Maersk Sealand, a unit of Danish oil and shipping group A.P. Moeller. Maersk Sealand is one of the world's biggest container lines, operating more than 250 vessels around the world.


The Associated Press, Bloomberg News Service and Reuters contributed to this report.



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