Ship forced to leave US waters after invasive bugs discovered on deck, officials say

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A carrier ship was ordered out of U.S. waters after federal officials say they discovered invasive bugs on board.

Agricultural specialists at the Port of New Orleans found the bugs, some of which can kill trees, in shipping materials left on the deck of the Pan Jasmine, which arrived July 17 at the anchorage of Davant downriver from New Orleans, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

The bugs were found in the wood, called dunnage, that was used to pack a shipment of aluminum that was dropped off in Vera Cruz, Mexico, customs officials said Wednesday.

But the dunnage was not offloaded in Vera Cruz and was left on the ship’s deck, which CBP says is “unusual.”

“No reason was provided to CBP as to why the dunnage was refused discharge in Mexico, and this raised a red flag,” CBP said in a news release. “An examination of the dunnage revealed burrowing holes and fresh sawdust near the holes, which indicates pests.”

Officials investigated and discovered five different pests on board the vessel, two of which — Cerambycidae and Myrmicinae — are “an agriculture threat to the U.S.,” CBP says.

“The Cerambycidae Family of Longhorned Beetles contains many non-native species that pose a serious threat to the environment,” CBP says. “The larvae of invasive wood-boring beetles can feed on a wide variety of trees in the U.S., eventually killing them.”

The beetles are native to China and the Korean peninsula but were discovered in New York City in 1996 and later in Chicago after they were accidentally brought to the U.S. in wooden shipping materials.

“Within two years, infestations resulted in the destruction of nearly 7,000 trees,” CBP says. “Recently, the USDA estimated that, if left uncontrolled, Cerambycids and other Chinese wood boring beetles could cause more than $100 billion in damage to the U.S. economy.”

The Myrmicinae queen ants discovered on board were also a concern because they could start a colony, CBP says.

Officials say the other bugs they discovered have an “established presence in the U.S.”

The vessel was ordered to immediately leave U.S. waters, load the wood into the cargo hold and clean the decks before returning to the country, CBP says. It left July 21 for Freeport, Bahamas, for “dunnage disposal services.”

“If the dunnage had been offloaded into the U.S., it would have been put in a Louisiana landfill where the insects could crawl out and invade the local habitat, causing incalculable damage,” New Orleans Area Port Director Terri Edwards said. “Inspecting wood dunnage of otherwise lawful shipments is one of the many, lesser known ways Office of Field Operations Agriculture Specialists help keep our country safe.”