NEWS

Greek navy patrols its coast for signs of ‘suspicious ships’

Dozens of Greek navy vessels have started Olympic security patrols as part of a two-zone buffer that includes Greek ships in coastal waters and NATO warships farther out at sea, a naval official said yesterday. At least 35 Greek ships are monitoring the Ionian Sea along Greece’s west coast, the Aegean Sea and areas off the coasts of Crete and the resort Cyclades islands. The ships are checking «any ships with suspicious behavior,» a navy source told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity. About 70 vessels have been inspected by Greek forces in recent weeks, but there have been no indications of cargo or personnel considered possible threats to the August 13-29 Games, the source said. The inspections will increase as the Games approach, the source added. About 10 navy helicopters and two military patrol aircraft are assisting the ships. Maritime protection has taken a prominent role in Greece’s 1.2-euro-billion (US$1.5 billion) security network. Greece – with a coastline of 15,000 kilometers (9,320 miles) and some 6,000 islands and islets – is a major destination along illegal smuggling routes for immigrants and goods. Some global security analysts also predict that Al Qaeda or other terrorist groups could be studying possible attacks on shipping lanes and other targets at sea. More than 200 naval commandos are stationed at seaside Olympic venues, including the Aghios Cosmas sailing venue and the triathlon area in Vouliagmeni on the coast near Athens. Off the port of Piraeus, about 10 kilometers (6 miles) south of central Athens, a frigate with about 200 sailors will watch over at least eight cruise ships that will serve as floating hotels for heads of state and other dignitaries. The first of the cruise ships is expected next week. Another frigate is patrolling the southern coast all the way to Sounion, site of an ancient temple to the sea god Poseidon about 50 kilometers (30 miles) southeast of Athens. NATO plans to dedicate its entire Mediterranean fleet of about 15 vessels to Olympic patrols in international waters.