According to The Week, modern ships carry so many containers, that it would take days to read the manifest of what is inside each one. Crews are only aware of containers that are dangerous -- in case they need to react to them -- but otherwise they "have no idea what they are carrying."
Connecting the sea to terrorism has become popular in security studies. Al Qaida certainly understands ships: not only because it rammed the USS Cole with a boat, but because it is thought to own or charter a small fleet. North Korea has its own flag, a fleet of 242 vessels, and the ability to make maritime mischief. Lloyd's List reported in 2012 that 120 vessels had reported GPS malfunctions in seas near North Korea, in an article that suspected the work of a North Korean signals jammer.
A senior government official was asked in 2002 about the threat of maritime terrorism. "This industry is a shadowy underworld," he said. "After 9/11 we suddenly realized how little we understood about commercial shipping." In 2010, Nigerian security forces discovered 240 tons of rockets, mortar shells, and small arms ammunition in 13 containers that had been shipped on the German-owned, French-operated, Marshall Islands?flagged Everest from Bandar Abbas in Iran, despite U.N. sanctions that prohibit Iran from selling arms. The contraband was hidden behind marble slabs and fiberglass. The manifest showed that the recipient was "to order." In short, according to a report, "the ship's owners, operators, and officers had no knowledge or reason for suspicion regarding the container."
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