June 27, 2012 / 2:15 PM / 8 years ago

U.S. seizes cargo ship in search for stowaways

NEWARK, New Jersey (Reuters) - A cargo ship believed to be carrying stowaways was seized at a New Jersey port on Wednesday after it arrived in the United States following stops in India and Egypt to pick up freight, the U.S. Coast Guard said.

Agents said they heard what sounded like people in a container buried beneath others in the ship’s hold, Coast Guard spokesman Charles Rowe said.

The container had not been opened hours after the ship was stopped and was being moved by crane to a dock so it could be checked, he said.

The ship’s manifest said the container was loaded onto the vessel on June 7 in India and was carrying machine parts.

At least seven ambulances waited outside Port Newark-Elizabeth Marine Terminal, where dozens of containers were moved to the dock for inspection. Authorities knocked on the outside of the red, blue or gray containers, listening for noises, and opened and searched them.

The vessel was identified as the Ville D’Aquarius, according to Anthony Bucci, a spokesman for the U.S. Customs & Border Protection.

“Agents are currently investigating allegations of stowaways,” Bucci said in a statement.

Rowe said authorities determined the container could not be opened in the ship’s hold, where it was found about 30 feet below deck beneath a stack of at least three other containers.

Authorities instead began methodically unloading the vessel’s cargo in order to reach it.

The ship 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, 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, were notified. Federal authorities rushed to receive the ship at the Newark dock, Rowe said.

Slideshow (5 Images)

The ship, which was flying a Cyprus flag, started its journey in Jebel Ali, United Arab Emirates, on May 30 and made a stop in Qasim, Pakistan, on June 2.

It then made two stops in India, at Nhava Sheva on June 5 and Mundra on June 7, where the container in question was taken onboard, according to the manifest, Rowe said.

The ship stopped in Egypt on June 15 and then headed for Newark, ultimately bound for Norfolk, Virginia. The container was supposed to be delivered to Norfolk, Rowe said.

Reporting by Barbara Goldberg; Editing by Jim Loney

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