On Wednesday U.S. customs officials based out of Newark, New Jersey seized a ship containing cargo from India and Egypt, “after hearing what sounded like people stowed away inside a container,” reports Reuters via the Chicago Tribune.
The vessel, named the Villa D’Aquarius, was stopped at approximately 3 a.m., just south of the Verrazano Bridge at a spot called Ambrose Anchorage, according to Coast Guard spokesman Charles Rowe.
“The boarding team went aboard for a routine inspection,” Rowe told reporters. “They heard sounds that were consistent with people being inside a container.”
Commonly used as a checkpoint for incoming ships, Ambrose Anchorage is located at the terminus of Ambros Channel – the main shipping lane in and out of the Port of New York. It runs in a northwest direction roughly halfway between Sandy Hook, New Jersey and Breezy Point, New York.
The ship, which was flying a Cyprus flag, had made two stops in India, followed by one in Egypt. According to the manifest, the container’s contents were listed as machine parts bound for Norfolk, Virginia.
Shortly after the discovery, officials from U.S. Customs and Border Protection, as well as the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, were alerted. The Villa D’Aquarius was met at a Newark dock by federal authorities, Rowe stated.
[UPDATED] 11:00 p.m. to reflect that according to the Associated Press, the search by U.S. Customs – which falls under the jurisdiction of the Department of Homeland Security – did not turn up any stowaways. The temporary seizure was reportedly initiated after customs inspectors heard knocking sounds coming from a container.