New Zealand was set to begin searching ships for potential WMD ingredients and equipment today in a five-day exercise aimed at evaluating the island nation's counterproliferation capabilities, the New Zealand Press Association reported (see GSN, July 22).
The drill, dubbed Exercise Maru, is being conducted in the Haruaki Gulf under the U.S.-led Proliferation Security Initiative, a group of more than 85 nations seeking to block transfers of WMD materials.
"The exercise will have a strong law enforcement focus on preventing the proliferation of WMD-related materials across our borders, including examining the legal issues which arise after a WMD item has been intercepted," said Robert Lake, deputy comptroller of operations for the New Zealand Customs Service.
The event is focusing on the interdiction of dual-use materials with "perfectly peaceful, legitimate, everyday uses as well as weapons applications," New Zealand Customs Minister Nanaia Mahuta said. "Chemicals used as cleaning agents could be used in weapons production and medical products could be used in the production of agents for biological weapons."
Smugglers could attempt to gather materials in New Zealand for building devastating weapons, Mahuta said.
The New Zealand Customs Service is heading the exercise, with the participation of the country's foreign ministry, Defense Force and other government bodies. The company responsible for overseeing Auckland's maritime traffic is also expected to take part.
Australia and France have each dispatched naval vessels for the drill (New Zealand Press Association/Stuff, Sept. 15). South Korea plans to send observers, the Korea Herald reported.
South Korea has shown caution about participating in PSI events due to concerns about angering North Korea, one target of the counterproliferation effort, the Herald said (Korea Herald, Sept. 15).