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U.S. Testing for Radiation Materials on Ship

September 13, 2002|From Associated Press

WASHINGTON — The Pentagon sent a team, including demolition experts, to try to determine if there are radioactive materials on a ship detained off the coast of New Jersey, officials said Thursday.

They also said intelligence officials had tracked the vessel for some time before its arrival on the East Coast.

The specialists were sent after one test earlier in the week showed traces of radioactivity in the cargo of the M/V Palermo Senator--and a second test was inconclusive, defense officials said.

The Liberian-flagged container ship was ordered to remain in a security zone six miles offshore while the inspection continues, the Coast Guard said.

Authorities were alerted to a possible concern about the ship's cargo as it made its way to the U.S. with stops in Asia and the Middle East, top trouble regions in the Bush administration's war on terrorism, two officials said.

The ship is believed to have made stops in Indonesia, Malaysia and Egypt, a defense official said on condition of anonymity.

Defense Department spokesmen declined to say what the Pentagon team was to do on the ship, offering only that a team with special capabilities was sent to assist the FBI, which is in charge of the investigation.

But another official, asking not to be identified, said that the team included experts in detecting and disposing of explosive ordnance.

The ship was directed to a berth at the Port Newark/Elizabeth Marine Terminal after a Coast Guard team boarded the vessel Tuesday. Team members reported hearing suspicious sounds in several of the ship's cargo holds but found no evidence of stowaways and said they could not determine the source.

Officials have declined to describe the cargo.

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