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Monday, 24 December, 2001, 18:19 GMT
'Terror probe' ship gets all-clear
MV Nisha
The Nisha remains moored off the Isle of Wight
A search of the cargo ship suspected of carrying "terrorist material" has found no dangerous substances on board, Scotland Yard said.

Anti-Terrorist Branch officers, who have been searching the vessel since Friday, say the ship is not a danger to the public and will be allowed to continue its journey.

Police are also satisfied that the MV Nisha's crew and owners - who have fully co-operated with police - have not committed any offence.

Assistant Commissioner David Veness, head of specialist operations at the Metropolitan Police, said his officers would remain vigilant, and would not hesitate to take similar action in the future if there was a potential risk to the public.

He said: "New information, combined with the relentless efforts of scientific experts, our detailed knowledge of the ship and its movements, and very careful examination of the vessel over the last three days leads us to be completely satisfied that the Nisha is not a suspicious vessel and does not pose a danger."

It had been anticipated that the search could take several more weeks, but police will now leave the ship on Monday after finding "no noxious, hazardous or dangerous substances".

A spokesman for sugar company Tate and Lyle, which was due to take receipt of the cargo, later said Nisha was unlikely to move from its mooring off the Isle of Wight until Thursday at the earliest.


The ship, which is carrying 26,000 tons of raw sugar, was intercepted by the Royal Navy frigate HMS Sutherland in international waters on Friday morning after a tip-off.

Customs and Excise boat
Customs and Excise officers have boarded the vessel

The ship was moored off Sandown Bay, Isle of Wight, but was moved on Monday to calmer waters off Bembridge, five miles away.

The crew, thought to be Indian, remained on board the Nisha, and Mr Veness prasied them for co-operating fully with the investigation.

Meanwhile, a separate international intelligence operation is understood to be monitoring a further 20 ships that are believed to have connections with Osama Bin Laden's al-Qaeda terror organisation.

There is no suggestion that the Nisha or its owners, the Bombay-based Great Eastern Shipping company, are in any way connected to al-Qaeda.

However, on its voyage to the UK the vessel stopped in Djibouti, next to Somalia, which has been linked with the group.

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.

The Nisha was intercepted 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.

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 originally due to arrive at 0400GMT on Saturday.

The BBC's Jon Brain
"The police have praised the crew for their cooperation"
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
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