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Fears at port

PUBLISHED: 10:29 11 September 2002 | UPDATED: 12:37 03 March 2010

EVERY year 2.5 million metal boxes are handled at Felixstowe port - each one providing the potential to smuggle the unthinkable.

The containers arriving and departing at the boxport's busy quaysides are crucial to the country's economy, carrying for import and export goods and raw materials.

EVERY year 2.5 million metal boxes are handled at Felixstowe port – each one providing the potential to smuggle the unthinkable.

The containers arriving and departing at the boxport's busy quaysides are crucial to the country's economy, carrying for import and export goods and raw materials.

In the wake of September 11 last year, the humble metal boxes, which revolutionised the fortunes of Felixstowe port in the 1970s and 1980s, could contain a devastating nuclear or "dirty" bomb.

Ports around the world have been on red alert for the past year amid concern that terrorists could literally plant a bomb in the harbour of a large city simply through a ship carrying a device sailing in to berth.

A report by a Commons defence committee warned there had been "a lack of real urgency" on the matter in the wake of September 11.

Felixstowe, the UK's busiest container port, Europe's fourth and the world's 14th, is one of a number of British ports to have already received special equipment designed to detect nuclear material.

In a worrying incident this summer, the alarms went off for the first time but were found to have been triggered by a contaminated bolt and there was no danger.

Special branch officers are investigating after terrorist weapons – Semtex, mortars and hand-held machine guns – were discovered hidden in a car inside a container in a routine cargo search.

Negotiations are taking place over the stationing of American customs officers at Felixstowe, Southampton, Thamesport and Liverpool to take responsibility for cargo bound for the states.

This week the International Maritime Organisation meets to discuss measures which could force Felixstowe to submit to a security assessment, draw up a security plan and appoint a security officer.

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