Navy in Med. Qaeda ship hunt

US naval officers yesterday cleared a Greek-owned ship from suspicions that it was carrying supporters of the Al Qaeda terrorist network in the guise of illegal immigrants, but at least a dozen other ships roaming the eastern Mediterranean are listed as under suspicion, according to a news report on Greek state TV last night. Greek ships joined a multinational naval force in hunting for the merchant ship Tara, registered in Tonga, an island state in the Pacific. According to information released by the Ministry of Merchant Marine, the ship’s owner is one Dimitrios Kokkos, «known to the ministry as being involved in cases of contraband.» Kokkos operates a company, Nova Spirit Inc, registered in the US state of Delaware. Yesterday, at 7 a.m., US marine officers, from USS Monterey, boarded Tara about 70 nautical miles off the southern Turkish port of Antalya. According to Captain Bob Ross, spokesman of the US Sixth Fleet, the ship’s books appeared in order and there was no evidence of contraband, including humans, on the ships. Ross added that the officers boarded the ship because of its «suspicious behavior,» without elaborating further. He also refused to divulge the length of time US naval forces had spent tracking the ship. In Athens, Defense Minister Yiannos Papantoniou confirmed that a Greek frigate was part of the multinational force searching for Tara and other suspect ships. «We are conducting searches in every direction,» he said. «It is important that Greece inspects movements that could be connected with international terrorism,» Papantoniou added, without elaborating further.