UPDATED Thursday, June 28 at 10:45 am
The search for suspected stowaways within a cargo container aboard a ship docked at Port Newark has been ended with no one found, the US Department of Homeland Security announced Thursday morning.
"After a lengthy and exhaustive inspection by the Department of Homeland Security officials, the search for stowaways aboard the Ville D'Aquarius has concluded with no stowaways found. Officers from U.S. Customs and Border Protection with assistance from ICE -Homeland Security Investigations, the U.S. Coast Guard and the Port Authority of NY/NJ, utilized X-Ray machines, K-9 units and officers on the ground to search over 163 containers." DHS said in a statement released Thursday.
An investigation of the vessel began Wednesday and continued for the next 24 hours.
As of 6 p.m. Wednesday, more than 150 targeted containers had been searched. The examination of the Ville D'Aquarius vessel, which was intercepted by the United States Coast Guard following a routine inspection, began early Wednesday afternoon.
Officers had reportedly heard noises "consistent with the possible presence of stowaways" coming from a container in the ship's hull, Coast Guard spokesperson Charles Rowe told the New York Times.
"When we knocked, we heard a knock back," he said.
Around 8 pm Wednesday night, a white HCV Mobile unit, a RV-size vehicle, was seen leaving the pier at Mohawk Street, where the vessel was docked. An HCV Mobile is a vehicle containing equipment designed to scan the interior of cargo containers. The federal government acquired several of the units a half-decade ago.
The 850-foot-long vessel, which was said to be carrying machine parts to Norfolk, Va., docked at Port Newark at 8:30 a.m. The container in question was loaded in Pakistan.
Several ambulances from Montclair, Nutley, Cranford and Kenilworth, as well as EMS Task Force units from Elizabeth and New Jersey State, were on standby Wednesday morning on Mohawk Street, which leads to the pier where the vessel is docked, but left the scene in the early afternoon.
The ship began its trek to Port Newark on May 30 from the United Arab Emirates, then made one stop in Pakistan and two stops in India. It ported in Pakistan before arriving in Newark, according to the Associated Press.
Cargo containers of the tyoe being searched Wednesday have little ventilation, with just four sets of tiny airholes in each of the top corners of the units. The containers are unlit and can easily reach temperatures in excess of 100 degrees.
Still, it is possible for a human being to survive a lenthy journey in 40-foot containers.
Juan Rolon, vice president of the Port Drivers Federation who has worked at Port Newark for 29 years, said incidents of stowaways in containers are "very rare". But in 1998, he recalled an instance where a container from Italy filled with pallets of mineral water apparently served as the accomodations for an unknown number of people.
The container was discovered with a hole in its wood floor and other evidence of habitation, but no sign of the traveler or tavelers. Since the container was hoisted atop a chassis, anyone inside would have had room to slip out through the hole and escape, Rolon said.
"Those people survived. It was well-planned," Rolon said.
[Editor's note: This story originally published at 10:11 a.m. Wednesday. It has since been updated.]