Stowaways found, captured in container at SC port

By Nicole Johnson  bio | email | Twitter

CHARLESTON COUNTY, SC (WCSC) - Two people are in custody and one man is dead after federal agents say the trio tried coming into the country illegally on board a shipping vessel at the Port of Charleston. Officials say they got aboard the Mediterranean Shipping Company owned vessel "Debra" in the Dominican Republic, and then they snuck into a container hoping to survive the four-day trip into Charleston with almost nothing.

"Snack items, Gatorade, potato chips. This did not look like a well-planned, organized attempt to enter the United States illegally," said Robert Fencel, CBP Area Port Director in Charleston.

Officials say a crew member noticed a hole on top of the container and two of the men on board the ship. The third was found dead in the container. They say they captured one man onboard the ship, but another man jumped more than 60 feet into the waters of the Wando River to swim away. It took officials more than four hours to find him.

"He hid under one of the docks near the Wando Terminal, and he was later found by the Charleston County Marine Unit," Fencel said.

The Coast Guard also assisted in this case by sending out security experts who handle port inspections. They helped determine that no other stowaways were on board the ship.

"When a vessel comes into the United States we will board it, look at the vessel for security, look at all spaces that can hide a person," said Coast Guard Charleston Deputy Sector Commander Mike Holland.

CBP says security measures at the Port of Charleston involve a ship's crew, local, state, and federal agencies.

"Charleston is not a key location for people to enter the United States. There are a lot of things in Charleston, especially the seaport, that would prevent people or even put up walls against them trying to come here," Fencel said.

"This type of incident is a clear indication of the risks people are willing to take to illegally enter the United States. While the loss of life is truly regrettable, the joint efforts of local, state and federal agencies helped bring this incident to a successful conclusion while ensuring the safety of both the maritime industry and the community."

The two surviving stowaways were taken to the hospital to be treated for dehydration.

CBP is working to identify the subjects and do background checks to help determine what will happen next. The coroner's office is determining the cause of death of the third stowaway.

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