Should al-Qaeda move within a few miles of a major port with a large cargo container ship bearing small speed boats rigged for high-speed assault with automatic weapons, RPGs and contact initiation charges, they could then lower those boats for the first phase of the assault - attacking merchant shipping or naval vessels transiting the area, as well as vessels at their assigned docks. The cargo vessel then may also be employed at a second location to act as floating bomb.
Scribbles also cites The Word Unheard on NORAD's new maritime role. Word Uneard asks about al-Qaeda's 15 ship flotilla. I think this question has been answered by Richard Miniter in Shadow War and as set out here:
B4B: Shadow War explains some of the victories we have had in the war on terror - which evidently the mainstream media doesn't seem to feel is newsworthy. What are some of these victories?(From Blogs for Bush)
RM: There are so many and it would churlish to simply advise people to read Shadow War, so here's one. The US captured the "al Qaeda Admiral" on the island of Umm Qassar. Abdul Rahim al-Nasheri commanded a fleet of 15 cargo ships used to transport terrorists and bombs. His ships supplied the bombs of the US embassy bombings in East Africa on Aug. 7, 1998--which killed hundreds of Africans and 12 American diplomats. He was the mastermind of the USS Cole attack, which killed or wounded 44 American sailors. And, he was planning an attack on the US Navy's Fifth fleet when he was captured. One of his ships was stopped off the coast of Greece with enough high explosives in the hold to create a blast bigger than the Hiroshima bomb. That's a victory that should have made front-page news. Instead, only a few wire services picked it up.
In short, we may know where the 15 ships are, and we already may have thwarted a plot similar to those Scribbles and I have been warning about. In my view, and in light of our past success, the greater danger comes from the seizure of a vessel of opportunity in an area outside of U.S. control and the use of that vessel as a weapon akin to the hijacked airliners of 9/11. With the vessel reporting requirements now in place, the "mother ship" scenario envisioned by Scribbles, though it may still be possible, seems very unlikely at this time.
In the meantime, these vessel reporting requirements are being streamlined:
Members of the maritime industry required to provide arrival and departure information to the U.S. Coast Guard and U.S. Customs and Border Protection can now submit one report for both agencies. Customs is also dropping some prerequisites to encourage companies to use its new import/export processing system.
Customs and the Coast Guard require vessel information, such as crew, passenger and cargo data, prior to arrival in a U.S. port. Until now, vessels reported this information separate to the two agencies.
The new Electronic Notice of Arrival/Departure System (eNOAD) will provide the maritime industry with a central method to submit the required vessel, crew, and passenger information. The system sends e-mail confirmations when reports are received, and users can update previously submitted reports.
See info on the National Maritime Movement Center.