A ship illegally altered to transport contraband ran aground off Mona Island, the Coast Guard command in Puerto Rico reported.
The mysterious boat drifted to the shore of Mujeres Beach, where it spilled fuel, prompting the mobilization of personnel to contain the situation, said the agency’s spokesperson on the island, Ricardo Castrodad.
“It is a vessel that has clearly been modified for some type of illicit contraband trafficking,” Castrodad said. “It’s what they call a low-profile boat.”
He clarified that it is not what they call a “semi-submersible” type vessel. He explained that “it was a sailboat that someone modified to operate with a motor. “They covered the deck and painted the top part a color that blends in with the water.”
“Clearly, it was prepared for smuggling activities. Upon inspection, no signs of people or contraband were found. She was operated on a long time ago, in another area and it was not because of us. “We are trying to find the origin,” she added.
He recalled that the Coast Guard is not the only entity that carries out interventions in the Caribbean Sea, but did not speculate what other authority could have intervened with the 40-foot boat, leaving it adrift, until it reached Mona Island, where it was detected by security guards from the Department of Natural and Environmental Resources (DRNA) at around 7:53 in the morning on Thursday of last week.
After being alerted, the Coast Guard yesterday completed the removal of the diesel and waste, with its oil spill response team and private contractors.
Castrodad highlighted that the boat had “modified tanks inside to travel long distances. Our concern was that fuel and we coordinated to bring in contractors to remove it.”
In a press release, the Coast Guard indicated that the cleanup efforts are estimated at $190,000.
When notifying the Coast Guard, DRNA watchers reported that there was fuel spilling and a strong smell of diesel coming from the boat.
He also advised that there were an unknown number of “coastal invertebrates” in the area that had been killed by fuel in the rock area.
Likewise, he mentioned that the affected beach area is designated as critical habitat for sea turtles.
Cleanup crews worked over the weekend on the operation, which resulted in the removal of tanks holding 300 gallons of diesel and the removal of two cubic yards of waste oil.
Coast Guard personnel are working with the DNER, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and the United States Fish and Wildlife Service to identify additional impacts on the area’s ecosystems.
Once the contamination emergency has passed, the boat remains in the area while the investigation continues and what will happen to the ship is determined, Castrodad said.
“This was a complex operation due to the remote location, incoming storms, and sensitive environmental areas and habitat on Mona Island,” said Lt. Commander Ray Lopez, chief of the San Juan Sector Incident Management Division. in written statements.