Search For Stowaways In Ship Containers Turns Up Nothing
A container on board a ship that cruised through the Middle East and Pakistan before heading to New York Harbor had everyone from Homeland Security to the Port Authority scrambling to make sure there aren't stowaways on board.

A grueling day-long search turned up nothing, officials said Thursday.

The Ville d'Aquarius is docked in Port Newark after arriving in the area around 3:00 A.M. Wednesday. That's when inspectors from the Coast Guard boarded the 835-foot vessel on a routine check of its cargo. Inspectors banged on a shipping container, and heard banging in response. That sparked a dual concern that stowaways could be on board and, since the vessel had taken on cargo at ports in countries with strong reputations for hosting terrorist cells, that the stowaways may be connected to organizations determined to do the U.S. harm.

The biggest challenge to resolving those questions was the location of the perceived banging sound. It appeared to be coming from low in the stacks of some 2300 containers. The central part of the ship, where the sound was apparently heard, had ten stacks of containers seven deep, according to sources familiar with the investigation.

Once the ship was brought into dock by 8:00 A.M., law enforcement and medical personnel swooped in, knowing that they may be dealing with people trapped deep in the hold of the ship.

A line of a dozen ambulances assembled outside of the entrance road to the dock where the Ville d'Aquarius was moored. Joining them were dozens of vehicles from The Newark police and fire department, the Port Authority, Department of Homeland Security, the Coast Guard and Elizabeth police and fire departments.

They waited all morning for word on possible stowaways, to no avail. By noon, many of the vehicles began to pull out of the area, since nobody had been found.

Around 5:30 P.M., a Department of Homeland Security spokesperson told PIX11 in a statement, "Law enforcement officers and agents are continuing to investigate allegations of stowaways. ...At this time, over 150 targeted containers have been examined and no stowaways have been found."

The ship had begun it's voyage in the United Arab Emirates on May 30th, then steamed into ports in India, Pakistan and Egypt before heading across the Atlantic on it's way to it's final destination, Norfolk, Virginia.

It was due to anchor in Newark for no more than 72 hours beginning on Wednesday, according to a source at the port, before proceeding to Virginia.

This possible stowaway incident comes a year and a month after Homeland Security agents found a former soldier in Saddam Hussein's army, Asem Haroun, hiding in a Port Newark warehouse after having stowed away on a ship from the Middle East.

That breach of security last year underscores why agents are so adamant now. They view the situation not just as a matter of possible stowaways, but also as a matter of border security. "Officials will continue to examine containers overnight," a Homeland Security spokesperson told PIX11 News.