Deputies say there was no threat to a cruise ship at the Port of Tampa although two K9s smelled something suspicious on a pallet of cargo. Tests conducted into Thursday evening revealed a white, granular substance from a metal pallet that crews were loading onto a Royal Caribbean cruise ship. They've identified the substance as magnesium nitrate hexahydrate.
"This chemical can be used as an ingredient in the construction of an explosive device and is, in fact, one of the chemical compounds that explosive detection dogs are trained to smell," said Cristal Bermudez Nunez.
The Hillsborough Sheriff's Office says crews were unloading a semi truck of liquor on the dock at Terminal 3, when the dogs alerted them to one of the pallets during a routine screening. Police evacuated the terminal and parts of the nearby ship, Jewel of the Seas. Bomb squad technicians came in to take a closer look.
"I've heard the analogy if you bake a good meal in this room and you walk out, leave, and come back 2 hours later you can't smell it," said Colonel Jim Previtera, of the Hillsborough Co. Sheriff's Office. "But you bring that dog back in and he still smells. You have to remember dogs aren't sniffing a bomb, they're sniffing an odor."
Deputies say magnesium nitrate hexahydrate is in fireworks, fertilizers as well as explosives. Detectives are sending results of the chemical analysis to the Department of Homeland Security.
The shutdown delayed the departure of the cruise ship by two and a half hours. Passengers say the evacuation was inconvenient, but they'd rather be safe than sorry.
"They can't take chances with peoples' lives," said Betty Huth. "The Boston Marathon didn't expect anything either, but things happen. So I appreciate them being cautious."
Another passenger, Doris Sabourin, said the recent attacks made her think about the risks of traveling.
"I said last night - we'll be lucky if we don't have a bomb. I really did," Sabourin said. "My daughter said 'you're crazy, mom, don't even think about it.'"
Col. Previtera said even if the Boston Marathon bombing had not happened, their response to something suspicious at the Port of Tampa would have been the same.
"We all agreed right away: our response would have not been any different a month ago than now, and that speaks volumes to the effort at the Port of Tampa and that the law enforcement community here and the Sheriff's Office's Port Security Unit put into the safety of the passengers on the ships."
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