Charleston, S.C. port terminal evacuated as Coast Guard investigates 'dirty bomb' threat

Wando Terminal (Dean Stevens/WCIV)

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Coast Guard officials confirmed Wednesday the Wando terminal at the Port of Charleston was evacuated, and part of the Wando and Cooper rivers closed to boat traffic because of a threat aboard a container ship.

Capt. Greg Stump, commander for Coast Guard Sector Charleston, said Wednesday local, state and federal authorities, including the FBI, were all at the Wando terminal investigating the threat, and port employees had been evacuated.

Lt. James Zorn, spokesperson for Coast Guard Sector Charleston, said early Thursday morning the ship in question is the Maersk Memphis. The Memphis docked at the Wando port terminal shortly before 8:30 p.m. Wednesday.

According to Capt. Stump, a YouTube “conspiracy theorist” made a claim about a threat aboard the Memphis, and authorities are investigating the threat out of an abundance of caution.

In two videos posted Wednesday to YouTube, a man named George Webb claims there to be a "dirty bomb" aboard the Memphis, loaded in Pakistan during a recent trip to the Middle East.

According to online records from Maersk Lines, the Memphis did return recently to the U.S. from the Middle East.

Between leaving the U.S. April 14 and returning June 12, Maersk records show the Memphis docked at ports in the United Arab Emirates, Pakistan, India, Oman, Egypt and Spain.

A "dirty bomb" is defined by several online sources as an explosive device loaded with radioactive or radiation polluted materials. It is not a true nuclear weapon.

According to Lt. Zorn with the Coast Guard, investigators as of Thursday morning had zero credible information to suggest there is a "dirty bomb" aboard the Memphis. Lt. Zorn reiterated that agencies are investigating the threat out of an overabundance of caution.

Lt. Zorn also said Thursday Coast Guard personnel in major ports such as Charleston are outfitted with radiation detection devices. Lt. Zorn says results are not yet available from a radiation sweep aboard the Memphis by Coast Guard Sector Charleston.

As the investigation continued, the Coast Guard closed portions of the Cooper and Wando rivers within one square nautical mile of the Wando terminal to boat traffic.

Lt. Zorn said to his knowledge there had been no reported injuries or hospitalizations related to the reported bomb threat on the Memphis.

The Coast Guard is the lead investigating agency in this case.

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