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Greece heightens port cargo watch

Piraeus joins the world's busiest port, Singapore, above, and 18 other ports in the cargo screening program.
• Olympics 2004: Special report 
United States
Port security

(CNN) -- Greece is stepping up cargo security at its key port of Piraeus ahead of next month's Olympic Games.

Piraeus this week joined a U.S.-led container screening initiative that means heightened security measures are now in place at 20 of the world's largest seaports.

To get the security program running before the summer Olympics begin on August 13, the United States is lending Greece two large-scale X-ray machines that can rapidly screen whole containers for terrorist weapons.

U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) staff are to work with Greek counterparts at Piraeus to identify incoming and outgoing cargo that poses a potential security risk.

The X-ray machines take less than a minute to produce an interior image of a standard 40-foot container.

They are are part of a range of security measures being taken in Greece ahead of the games.

Seventy thousand police and soldiers, supported by 300 surveillance cameras, extra helicopters and a blimp, will monitor activities around the various games sites, while surface-to-air missile batteries will provide protection against airborne terrorist attacks.(Full story)

The United States began the container screening program in January 2002 after the September 11, 2001 terror attacks.

U.S. CBP commissioner Robert Bonner said the goal had been to get the program operating in the world's top 20 container ports, and in other major ports in Europe, Asia, Africa and North America.

He said this goal had been achieved in record time and the plan was to extend the network even further.

More than 48 million full cargo containers move between the world's major seaports each year. Of these, about 6 million containers arrive in the United States by ship.

The 20 ports to have signed onto the program over the past two and a half years are Vancouver, Montreal and Halifax in Canada; Singapore, Hong Kong, Yokohama, Tokyo, Busan and Port Kelang in Asia; Rotterdam, Bremerhaven, Le Havre, Hamburg, Antwerp, Felixstowe, Gothenberg, Genoa, LaSpezia and Piraeus in Europe; and Durban in South Africa.

The United States hopes to extend the security program to other large ports, including Shanghai and Yantian in China, Kobe and Nagoya in Japan and Algeciras in Spain.

Under the program, U.S. customs officials are stationed in some ports outside the United States. Similarly, Canadian and Japanese customs officials work at major U.S. seaports.

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