It was hardly the first fishy shipment to pass through Gioia Tauro. Famously, just six weeks after 9/11, workers there heard noises coming from inside a container being transshipped to Nova Scotia via Rotterdam. Inside, police found an Egyptian-born Canadian carrying a Canadian passport, a satellite phone, a cell phone, a laptop, cameras, maps, and security passes to airports in Canada, Thailand, and Egypt. The container’s interior was outfitted with a bed, a water supply, a heater, and a toilet. Nicknamed Container Bob, the man posted bail in Italian court and was never seen again.
Cobalt 60 is known as "the peaceful atom" and it is widely used in commercial applications. It's used to sterilize everything from milk to bandages. It is one of the things you are expressly looking for when doing a scan like this so it is a bit odd that the Italians were flummoxed by the "mystery."
He was well dressed, carried a laptop computer and appeared no different than any other business traveller except for the fact he had chosen to come to Canada in a metal box. Italian police arrested Amir Farid Rizk under new anti-terrorism legislation last week after finding him stowed away in a steel box on a container ship, on the eve of a three-week Atlantic crossing to Canada.
Canadian officials were also alarmed, worried he might be a terrorist with a devious plan to sneak into the country undetected. His box was furnished with a bed and a bucket and was stocked with food and water. Mr Rizk also had a satellite phone, maps and security passes for airports in Canada, Thailand and Egypt. He was travelling with a Canadian passport, which officials thought might be a forgery.
He had not thought about air quality, and began pounding on the walls of his box after arriving in the Italian port from Egypt because he was having trouble breathing.
Police believe he boarded the ship in Egypt and planned to travel all the way to Canada. But Farid, who was holding a Canadian passport, also had a plane ticket to fly from Rome to Toronto to Montreal. His seat on the flight, scheduled to leave last Friday, was confirmed. Italian investigators say everything about Farid — his documents and claims about himself — appear to be either false or obscured. They have checked his stories with police in other countries — including Egypt, Canada and the United States — and believe none has panned out. Canadian investigators are further investigating the suspect's background.
For six months after the container was discovered, officials made no public announcement about it, and the port’s business continued as usual. But rumor spread through the city. For a while, the only reaction was from port workers. Giacomo Santoro, whose FILT union represents most of the port’s longshoremen, claims Voltri management had his members move the container before adequately explaining the risks involved. And because the box spent a week on the dock between the time it was offloaded and when Montagna scanned it, dozens of people may have been unknowingly exposed to dangerous radiation. In protest, port workers staged a 24-hour strike in August 2010, three weeks after the container landed on the dock. For the next five days, the terminal’s union workers struck for two hours each shift.
Locals took up the cause. For neighborhood activist Nicola Montese, a burly young screenwriter and TV host who grew up in the shadow of the terminal’s cranes, the container was just another example of Genoa’s disdain for the working-class neighborhood across from the port. “Everyone always dumps their trash in Pra’,” Montese says. “We don’t need another problem.” Montese spent months trying to drum up outrage in the local community, hanging hand-painted banners on fences near the port and organizing meetings and protests.
Behind closed doors, officials from various agencies, foreign governments, and businesses struggled to come up with a plan. This was the worst radiologic incident in Italian history, and nobody knew whom to blame or what to do about it. “I’ve seen cesium from Egypt and americium from Russia,” says the environmental agency’s Maggiolo, who has a doctorate in physics. “But I’ve never seen something like this.”
Genoese officials were stuck. No shipping line in its right mind would transport container 307703 knowing only that it was radioactive but not what was inside. Neither Saudi Arabia nor the United Arab Emirates were willing to take it back. As a temporary measure, six months after the container was delivered the port built a three-sided “castle” of triple-stacked yellow containers half-filled with concrete around the unwanted box, which still sat at the terminal’s unused far end. Signs reading pericolo—radiazione ionizzante (“Danger—Ionizing Radiation”) were posted at regular intervals, reminding port workers to keep their distance.
After months of wrangling over who was responsible for the removal operation—priced at $700,000—the port and the Italian ministry of the interior finally decided to split the bill. On July 18, 2011, just over a year after the box was unloaded in Genoa, 40 firefighters, a police bomb squad, representatives from the port authority, a team of robot operators, and Calimero and Garbarino descended on the Voltri terminal. Five huge green tents were pitched on the port’s blacktop to house computers and gear. Ten fire trucks and emergency vehicles were parked 100 yards behind the shield wall.
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