Coast Guard officials confirmed last night that one of four missing containers of deadly arsenic was found by a robot submarine equipped with a video camera but said the container was badly damaged and that the drums containing the poison were missing.
The 40-foot-long containers, which held a total of 441 drums of arsenic, were among at least 21 containers washed overboard during a northeaster two weeks ago. They were on the Santa Clara I, a Panamanian ship that was bound from New York to Dundalk.
An Environmental Protection Agency ship using sonar found objects 137 feet down on the ocean floor 30 miles east of Cape May, N.J. last week. But poor weather delayed the deployment of the submarine capable of videotaping the serial numbers on the containers so that they could be identified.
The weather finally cleared yesterday afternoon, and the robot vessel set out at 2 p.m., said Coast Guard Lt. Peter Hoffman of the Marine Safety Office in Philadelphia, the federal coordinator on the scene.
The crew was able to positively identify three shipping containers, only one of which originally contained drums of arsenic trioxide.
"The only problem is that this container is badly damaged, and it appeared empty. So it's not known where the drums that used to be in there are located," Lieutenant Hoffman said.
One of the other containers that were identified held coffee, and the other held sanitary supplies, he said.
"So, to date we have not found any arsenic trioxide, but the indications are good that we have located the area where the ship lost its cargo," Lieutenant Hoffman said.
The search for the poison will continue until it is found or until weather conditions force its cancellation.