The Pacific Heron on plutonium mission.
The ships are guarded by a Royal Navy sub and 50 commandos in what some believe is the most dangerous secret mission in history.Mark Nicol, Daily Mail
6 February 2016
Two top secret British ‘ghost ships’ carrying enough plutonium for a huge nuclear arsenal wend their way through the world’s oceans –guarded against terrorists by 50 commandos.
It may sound like a tantalising target for a villain in a James Bond film, but what is potentially the most dangerous secret mission in history is deadly reality.
Two vast container ships – the Pacific Heron and the Pacific Egret – left Barrow-in-Furness, Cumbria, last month on the first leg of their incredible journey.
Their mission is to sail to Japan to collect 331kg of plutonium – enough to make 80 nuclear warheads – which was leased by the UK to a Japanese research facility.
The ships are almost certainly shadowed by a Royal Navy submarine and surface vessels and are heavily armed with 20mm cannon.
They are sailing across the Atlantic before passing through the Panama Canal and into the Pacific on their way to Japan.
Their ultimate destination is a US nuclear storage facility in South Carolina, and the return journey to the American eastern seaboard from East Asia would normally again be made via the Panama Canal.
But this would leave the vessels vulnerable to attack – and their terrifying radioactive cargo could in theory devastate much of Central America.
So instead, they are likely to take the long and dangerous journey around the storm-lashed Cape Horn at the tip of South America, one of the most hazardous shipping routes in the world.
The Heron and the Egret, which each weigh about 6,700 tons when fully loaded, belong to the UK’s Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA). It is expected that each ship will be guarded by as many as 25 commandos.
Nuclear expert John Large told The Mail on Sunday last night: ‘The cargo is invaluable and part of a secret trade in fissile materials between the likes of the UK and US. The biggest risk is a fire or an external missile strike.
‘This is bomb-grade nuclear material and a terror group or rogue state would want to intercept it.’
The ships are operated by International Nuclear Services, an NDA subsidiary. A spokesman said: ‘I can confirm that the specialist nuclear cargo vessels are currently taking part in a voyage but, in accordance with normal procedures, I can’t disclose any operational details for security reasons.
‘The transportation of nuclear materials is a tried and tested practice that’s been in place for decades without any major incidents. The UK is a world leader in this area.’