CBS New York: Coast Guard: Stowaways Suspected In Container Of Ship At Port Newark

CBS New York

NEWARK, N.J. – The Coast Guard, law enforcement and other first responders are at a container ship at Port Newark, New Jersey after authorities suspected dozens of stowaways may be inside a container on board.

The ship Ville D’Aquarius pulled into port around 8:30 a.m. Wednesday.

Coast Guard spokesman Charles Rowe said the Coast Guard boarded the 850-foot-long ship while it was off shore around 3 a.m. as part of its standard operating procedure. That’s when crews heard something coming from one of the containers that sounded like people were inside, Rowe said.

“Noises of something along the line of knocking sounds, something that would indicate it was a person as opposed to just a random object moving around,” he said.

According to the ship’s manifest, the container was loaded aboard the vessel in India and said it was carrying machine parts slated for Norfolk, Va.

Rowe said Coast Guard crews didn’t open the container at sea as a precaution.

Customs, Border Patrol agents and Port Authority police met the Ville D’Aquarius when it docked at Port Newark. Several ambulances and Hazmat crews also responded.

There are unconfirmed reports that dozens of stowaways are in the container, but Rowe said they won’t know for sure until it’s pulled off the ship.

“We have no information on the individuals and we’re not 100 percent sure that there are people in there until we open it,” Rowe said.

The container is deep within the ship and Customs officials said it could take hours to remove the cargo.

“If there are stowaways, then Customs and Boarder Protection takes them into custody and an investigation is conducted,” Rowe said.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security also said in a statement that it is “conducting a thorough investigation of the vessel.”

Congressman Peter King, who heads the House Homeland Security Committee, said he was told air space around Newark has been closed as a precaution while authorities continue to search the ship.

“Obviously there is a concern about human life, but also, in the times in which we live, the first concern has to be terrorism,” he told CBS 2. “We have to assume the worst in these situations and hope for the best.”

Meanwhile, a small boat has been waiting nearby in case anyone tries to jump off the vessel, WCBS 880 Levon Putney reported.

The ship apparently began its voyage on May 30 in the United Arab Emirates before making stops in Pakistan and India.

Officials said its last port was in Egypt on June 15.