Security has stepped up at the Port of Fernandina since a crew member on one of the ships decided to stay in America in a way pursued for hundreds of years — he departed the vessel and tried to find a place to stay without attracting too much attention.
News of the man’s alleged illegal entry into the United States appeared to come as a second thought to the Ocean Highway and Port Authority (OHPA) Chairman, Danny Fullwood.
“There’s nothing to report from Port security — everything’s been OK,” Fullwood said at the OHPA’s meeting Wednesday night. “As a matter of fact, there was a problem with the ship we’ve been talking about. Somebody absconded from the ship. One of the crew members left the Port through the marsh during the night. They never did find him — he may have gotten gator-eaten in that marsh, I don’t know.
“They now have a police officer that sits down there 24 hours a day monitoring that ship. There’s a gangplank — If that gangplank comes down … in the morning, I know there’s one crew member that comes down and checks the water line, because he has to do that, goes back up and the gangplank goes up unless they have to get off the ship for some other reason. Some of them can if they have the appropriate documentation to do that.”
Nassau Terminals is paying the police officer for the security work. The crew member is believed to be Vietnamese, Nassau Terminals CEO Chris Ragucci said, and Fullwood noted he was still missing as of the time of the meeting.
“They have a description of him, he was picked up on our cameras, so they have an idea of what he looks like,” Ragucci said. “They saw him getting out through the marsh.”
There are really only two ways to go from the port — east into Fernandina Beach or west across the Amelia River and marshes that are problematic to walk through at the lowest of tides. The natural barrier is usually enough to dissuade most people from crossing it to get to the mainland. Amelia Island is longitudinal so heading south isn’t much of a help, and go far enough north and you’ll attract the notice of security at Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay.
“It is fenced, but the guards open the gate to let the trains go through,” Ragucci said.
The crew member went down the tracks and through the open gate, Fullwood added, to reach the marsh.
“It has happened before,” Fullwood said, “but it’s more peculiar now.”