Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Security tight as ship enters Halifax harbour

Globe and Mail Update, posted 12:22pm

A container ship suspected to be carrying a number of stowaways arrived in Halifax harbour on Tuesday under police boat escort.

Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day is believed to be at the port where the 10-year-old Cala Puebla, registered in Cyprus, has arrived.

The agent for the vessel said the company was informed a few days ago that there may be people stowed aboard containers on the massive ship, owned by Costa Container Lines, based in Genoa, Italy.

Carlos Fortuna of Garland Navigation said the ship left Lisbon on April 1, bound for Halifax.

He said he finds it hard to believe suggestions the ship could be carrying 150 to 200 people.

The ship originated in Italy and stopped in Spain before heading for Lisbon.

Mr. Fortuna said it appears Canadian government officials in Spain raised the alarm a few days ago when they contacted Portuguese authorities.

The vessel was visited by immigration police in Lisbon and some containers were opened as part of their search.

“I think they will find this is a case of misinformation,” Mr. Fortuna said by telephone from Lisbon. “We find it hard to believe that 150 or 200 people would not be seen.”

Mr. Fortuna said the captain of the ship did not search the vessel after Garland Navigation informed them of the possibility of stowaways on board.

A spokesman for the Halifax police said they and the RCMP were offering operational support to the Border Services Agency as it deals with the ship's arrival.

Officials with the Canadian Border Services Agency could not be reached for comment.

The Halifax Port Authority said, apart from the Cala Puebla, operations at the harbour were continuing as usual.

The arrival of stowaways in the port of Halifax has been a problem in the past, with Canadian immigration officials in 2001 saying up to 30 a year were arriving in the city.

In December of 2002, 12 stowaways from Romania arrived aboard a container ship from Spain.

But there were also instances in 2000 and 2001 of smaller numbers of people arriving in the port from countries such as Cuba, Moldova, Russia, Bulgaria, Albania and Ukraine.

Companies face fines of up to $15,000 per stowaway if it's determined that sufficient security members weren't taken to prevent them from getting on board a ship.

Six stowaways who arrived in Halifax in November 2001 told how they lived on crackers, chocolate and water for five days before revealing themselves to the crew of the container ship they were on board.