Supply Chain News / Ocean / Ports

U.S. Seizes Cargo Ship Suspected Of Carrying Stowaways

U.S. authorities in Newark, N.J. seized a cargo ship with goods from India and Egypt on Wednesday, June 27, 2012 after hearing what sounded like people stowed away inside a container on the vessel, the U.S. Coast Guard said.

At this time, it does not look like this event will delay port activities or other scheduled ships.

The container was buried beneath others and had not been opened hours after the ship was stopped.

The vessel, Villa D'Aquarius, was stopped at 3 a.m. EDT (0700 GMT) at a standard checkpoint for incoming ships, the Ambrose Anchorage below the Verrazano Bridge in New York Harbor, Coast Guard spokesman Charles Rowe said.

"The boarding team went aboard for a routine inspection. They heard sounds that were consistent with people being inside a container," Rowe said.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection, as well as the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which runs the Port Newark-Elizabeth Marine Terminal, were notified. Federal authorities rushed to receive the ship at the Newark dock, Rowe said.

As of about 9 a.m. EDT (1300 GMT), the container remained unopened beneath a stack of others in the hold of the ship about 30 feet down from the deck, he said.

"First it will be determined whether it can be opened as is," said Rowe. "If that is not feasible, the containers above it will be shifted, it will be put on the pier and we will find out what is inside."

The ship, which was flying a Cyprus flag, made two stops in India, a final stop in Egypt and then headed for Newark, ultimately bound for Norfolk, Virginia.

The container in question was supposed to be carrying machine parts and was to be delivered to Norfolk, Rowe said.

A gangplank was pulled up to the vessel and crew members were departing the ship as federal authorities took control, Rowe said.

Update 2 p.m., 06/27/12

Authorities have narrowed their search for suspected stowaways aboard a cargo ship in New Jersey.

Coast Guard spokesman Charles Rowe says that authorities have inspected 80 of the 200 containers that authorities believe could be carrying people. The ship has 2,000 containers altogether.

Rowe says a Coast Guard team conducting a routine inspection heard knocking inside a container as the vessel approached New York Harbor early Wednesday.

Emergency vehicles are standing by near the ship, while others that were on the pier earlier have left.

The ship began its voyage May 30 in the United Arab Emirates. Its last port before Newark was in Egypt on June 15.

Update 3:45 p.m., 06/27/12

Search for the suspected stowaways on a cargo ship at Port Newark could take all day

Nearly 12 hours after U.S. Coast Guard officers boarded a cargo vessel suspected to be carrying stowaways, authorities have yet to find anyone and say the search could take another 12 hours.

Since its arrival, crews have been working to unload part of the ship to get to the area where the boarding crews believe the knocking sounds originated.

"At the moment, we're still examining containers," said Coast Guard spokesman Charles Rowe from the port dock.

Rowe said that it takes about eight minutes to both X-ray and physically inspect each container.

With about 80 to 90 of the 200 containers of the batch where the Coast Guard suspects the purported knocking came from already inspected, it will take another 11 to 12 hours to complete the task, he said at 1:40 p.m.

The ship can carry more than 2,000 cargo containers. If anyone were hiding inside a container, they would be trapped until other containers—stacked and fastened together like Lego blocks—are removed.

Authorities have not heard any more knocking from the containers since the initial incident, Rowe said.

Michelle Krupa, a civilian spokeswoman for the Coast Guard New York Command Center, said the Coast Guard conducted a random boarding of the vessel at 1 a.m. today as it approached New York Harbor in waters near the Ambrose Light, off Sandy Hook. During an inspection, Krupa said the boarding team was conducting a sound check of containers when it encountered one that apparently contained stowaways.

"It was a random boarding, and they were doing a sound check and they knocked on this one and they heard a knocking back," she said.

Final Update

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Source: NBC New York
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