The attack begıns in the Houston Ship Channel, in the cargo hold of the Belize-flagged, Singapore-owned container ship Ocean Princess. The vessel is eight hundred feet long. It is stacked from stem to stern with forty-foot-long steel boxes and looks oddly top-heavy. On international manifests its cargo is listed as “toys and electrical components.” But that’s not all it is carrying. Inside one of the containers, each of which can hold thirty tons of cargo, is a stockpile of terrorist-planted explosives that makes Timothy McVeigh’s Oklahoma City bomb look like a firecracker.
As the ship steams north and west toward the heart of Houston, there are no signs that anything is wrong. The U.S. Coast Guard boards the ship and performs a routine inspection, interviewing the captain and crew but opening no containers. U.S. Customs and Border Protection, which uses