One hundred and sixty-three cargo containers later, a search for stowaways aboard a freighter docked in Port Newark, New Jersey has ended with no sign of a single stowaway.
On Wednesday morning, port officials thought they heard faint "knocking" coming from a container on the cargo ship Ville D'Aquarius, which had left India on June 11. When the search began in earnest, it was rumored that as many as 25 stowaways from Pakistan were aboard.
One emergency radio call even reported the stowaways as possible terrorists. They were believed hidden inside a cargo container buried in a pile of containers containing machine tool parts.
A standard cargo-ship container is 20 feet long and can hold 50,000 pounds of cargo. Many had to be hoisted off the ship and onto the Calcutta dock in Port Newark to be searched – all for naught.
"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," a Homeland Security spokesman said. "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."
The ordeal began around 3 a.m. Wednesday, after a Coast Guard patrol stop at the mouth of New York harbor, when officials conducting a routine check of the cargo ship believed they may have heard faint knocking coming from one of the containers onboard.
Within hours, emergency medical teams, police and federal law enforcement converged on the port as customs officials checked each container and port equipment operators raced to dig out the suspected containers. The ship had been out to sea for more than two weeks prior to docking, leading authorities to fear for the health of the alleged stowaways. A string of ambulances and other emergency vehicles waited just outside the port. The ambulances have since been sent back to their regular duties.
"The routing of the ship and the ports of call was what led to the actions," Andrew McLees, U.S. Immigration and Customs enforcement, told the Associated Press.