Wednesday, April 11, 2007 | 11:23 AM AT
No stowaways were found on a container ship suspected of carrying dozens of people into Halifax, but the rigorous search was a "positive exercise" in port security, Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day said Wednesday.
"What you witnessed was a full operational search … where all the containers on a ship were offloaded and were searched … all of those containers destined for Canada," said Day during a news conference in Halifax.
Border guards searched the Cypriot-registered cargo vessel Cala Puebla for seven hours Tuesday afternoon after it docked at the Halifax harbour.
The ship had been suspected of carrying as many as 250 stowaways, according to unconfirmed reports. While no people or contraband was found, it was a "positive exercise in port security," said Day.
Day wouldn't say what specific information prompted the higher risk assessment of the Cala Puebla, citing security reasons.
"We can't, for security reasons, give out how all risk assessments are done," he said, declining to say how many stowaways border guards were prepared to receive.
Day wouldn't discuss the cost of the search, but when asked whether it was justified, he said the government would be "negligent" if it ignored the warning.
"If this level of security had not been applied, and stowaways had been on board and they had walked away, then the type of question you would be asking would be on the reverse of that," said Day.
Warning issued to Halifax
Day said shipping companies know they could be subjected to searches and must assume that cost.
He praised the organizational efforts at the port, saying plans were in place to look after the medical and housing needs of possible stowaways.
The Cala Puebla began its journey in Italy, stopping in Spain before arriving in Portugal and leaving Lisbon on April 1.
Officials in Halifax had been warned that the vessel could hold a large number of stowaways.
Halifax Mayor Peter Kelly said he first heard about the ship more than one week ago when municipal emergency officials were notified. On Tuesday, he received a call from the public safety minister warning of a possible human smuggling operation.
However, the ship's captain, along with sailors on board, said it would be very difficult to conceal that many people on such a small ship.