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Report: Stowaways suspected on container ship in N.J.

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Posted at 10:57 AM, Jun 27, 2012
and last updated 2012-06-27 19:07:45-04

The search continues for stowaways believed to be on board a ship in New Jersey that was bound for Portsmouth.  It’s a situation that Hampton Roads doesn’t have to deal with often, despite the huge volume of ship traffic it sees.  According to the Virginia Port Authority, an average of 2,000 vessels come to the area every year.

“In regards to stowaways, it has been rare, we have not had that many cases in the past few years,” said Commander Kevin Carroll with the Fifth Coast Guard District based in Portsmouth.

Carroll said the last time a ship traveling through the Hampton Roads area had stowaways on board was in 2011, but they were discovered before reaching this area at a port in Nova Scotia.

Carroll says that's the best case scenario, but it's something they have to remain vigilant about, watching out for anyone or anything that shouldn't be on board.

“That's why the coordination between the U.S. Coast Guard, Customs and Port Authority, and the local police department is vital,” said Carroll.

Together the agencies check cargo and crew manifests before the ships arrive, look into where vessels have been conducting business, what ports they've visited and their prior history -- keeping an eye out for anything unusual.

They also have teams that board the vessels.

“It's not every vessel every day, but we are out there quite a bit,” said Carroll.

As for the ship currently being inspected in New Jersey, Carroll says after searching their records, he doesn’t believe it has ever been to Hampton Roads.

(CNN) -- Federal investigators are looking into whether stowaways are tucked inside a shipping container aboard a vessel docked at a Newark, New Jersey, seaport.

During a routine security check, a Coast Guard boarding team heard sounds coming from inside the container, prompting the investigation, according to Coast Guard spokeswoman Lt j.g. Fannie Wilks.

"There is no way to know exactly what is inside because we have not opened it yet, but we can knock on the container and hear someone knock back," she said. "Thus it is our understanding that there is at least one person in the container."

The Cyprus-flagged cargo ship -- which maintains about 2,000 containers -- last docked in Egypt, and had made a stop in Pakistan after originating in India, officials said.

"U.S. Department of Homeland Security law enforcement officers and agents are currently investigating allegations of stowaways," said Anthony L. Bucci, a spokesman for U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

Inspectors first checked the ship around 3 a.m. Wednesday.

Just prior to docking, the inspectors tapped on the bulkhead and heard something, said Coast Guard spokesman Charles Rowe.

They "tapped twice" and got "two taps back," he said. "Tapped 3 times" and got "three taps back," Rowe added, a process done periodically over several hours as they investigated.

But inspectors haven't heard the suspicious tapping since the ship docked at 8:30 a.m. Wednesday.

The vessel -- which is named the Ville D' Aquarius and managed by Global Ship Lease Services Limited -- is not loaded with dangerous cargo, and the container in question is underneath several other containers, said Coast Guard spokeswoman Michelle Krupa.

Global Ship Lease Services was not immediately prepared to comment.