BBC NEWS Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific Arabic Spanish Russian Chinese Welsh

 You are in: UK
Front Page 
Northern Ireland 
UK Politics 
Talking Point 
In Depth 

Commonwealth Games 2002

BBC Sport

BBC Weather

Sunday, 23 December, 2001, 08:47 GMT
Ship search enters third day
MV Nisha
The ship is currently moored half a mile off the coast
Anti-terrorist officers are expected to take several more days to complete their search of a cargo ship suspected of carrying terrorist material.

Scotland Yard confirmed that no illegal substances had so far been found on the vessel, MV Nisha, despite a detailed two-day search.

The ship, which was carrying thousands of tons of raw sugar, was intercepted by the Royal Navy Type 23 frigate HMS Sutherland in international waters on Friday morning.

Even if the risk is only a potential risk, we will not hesitate to take any action

Tony Blair
Unconfirmed reports suggested the ship will be moved to a military base in Portsmouth.

It is currently moored half a mile off the coast at Sandown Bay in the Isle of Wight.

Police said the probe was a "major security operation" and security sources said they were acting on intelligence that the vessel was carrying "terrorist material" - but there was no suggestion anthrax was involved.

HMS Sutherland, which had remained alongside MV Nisha throughout the night on Friday, left the area on Saturday.

Suspect ships

A Scotland Yard spokesman said: "The crew continues to be fully co-operative with police and they currently remain on board.

"It is not possible to say at this stage when the crew will be allowed to leave the ship.

"We do not believe the overall level of threat to London or the UK as a whole has increased beyond the heightened levels since the events of 11 September."

HMS Sutherland
HMS Sutherland was involved in the operation
Andrew Linington, of the National Union of Marine Aviation and Shipping Transport Officers, warned that it was "frighteningly easy" for ships to be used to transport terrorist material.

Intelligence services were monitoring at least 20 suspect ships, he said on BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

The Nisha, which is owned by the Bombay-based Great Eastern Shipping Company, was intercepted at 0800GMT on Friday in international waters off the Sussex coast, about 30 miles south of Beachy Head.

Dramatic footage of the interception showed HMS Sutherland trailing the ship by a few hundred yards.

'No danger'

Four rigid-inflatable boats then went after the merchant vessel, zipping across the waves until they pulled level on the starboard side.

The Nisha had been heading for the Tate & Lyle sugar refinery in Silvertown, east London. It was due to arrive at 0400GMT on Saturday.

The Scotland Yard spokesman stressed there was no danger to people living in the area.

While the owners of the ship are reputable, on its voyage to the UK it stopped in Djibouti, next to Somalia, which has been linked with Osama Bin Laden's al-Qaeda terror network.

The chairman of the British Arm of the Great Eastern Shipping Company, Sudhir Muliji, said the stopover in Djibouti had been made before the current journey and was to drop off American grain as part of a food aid shipment.

He said the ship then went on to Mauritius to pick up the sugar and transport it to Britain on what was a "pretty standard voyage".

"Obviously there must have been some information that went to Scotland Yard and they decided to make double sure that there was nothing bad on board, which I think we must be very grateful for."

During a news conference on Friday, Prime Minister Tony Blair said the interception demonstrated the "top-level vigilance" of the security services over the coming weeks.

He said: "Even if the risk is only a potential risk, we will not hesitate to take any action that we think necessary in order to investigate any potential threat."

The BBC's Jonathan Marcus
"It is a potential threat which is still worrying the authorities"
See also:

20 Dec 01 | UK Politics
UK hails anti-terror progress
14 Dec 01 | UK Politics
Anti-terror Act at-a-glance
14 Dec 01 | UK Politics
Terror laws face court threat
13 Dec 01 | England
Britain on Christmas terror alert
21 Dec 01 | UK
Terror suspect refused bail
Internet links:

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Links to more UK stories are at the foot of the page.

E-mail this story to a friend

Links to more UK stories