Terrorism and Container Shipping: The Bomb in the Box

Container transport is the basis of world trade. Loaded and sealed in one factory and opened and unloaded continents later, containers have cut the costs and risks of moving goods.

The World Today Updated 21 October 2020 Published 1 February 2003 4 minute READ

Sam Knight

has been working with the New Security Issues Programme, Chatham House

In 2000, their inventor, Malcolm McLean, became the International Maritime Association’s Man of the Century. Now, at the beginning of a different century, the world has a question about these millions of moving boxes. Which one’s got the bomb in?

Since September 11 2001, customs officials, governments and media around the world, most stridently in America, have warned of dangers sealed in containers. The scenario of the nuke in the box, a nuclear device or dirty bomb detonated in a major port, is the one most vividly described. US Customs Commissioner Robert Bonner calls it ‘truly the sum of all fears.’ And as the reasoning goes, if Al Qaeda is as sophisticated and as sensitive to the structures of western society as we think, then those fears have a basis in fact.

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