FEMA ship to weigh anchor

By Margaret Baker

Police say the Carnival Holiday cruise ship that has housed more than 6,000 Hurricane Katrina victims since August has not placed an added burden on police officers investigating crime in the city.

"It hasn't been a problem for us," Lt. Paul Leonard said of the ship docked at the Port of Pascagoula since Oct. 29. "We've only had 18 calls for service since November."

FEMA has paid to house Katrina victims on three cruise ships, including the Holiday, since Aug. 29.

FEMA leased the ships for six months at a cost of $192 million, with another $44 million budgeted for other needs, such as fuel.

The six-month contracts end Wednesday, when the cruise ships return to commercial use. As the deadline approaches, FEMAofficials said they're busy finding new housing for the remaining passengers. About 60 passengers, the majority from South Mississippi, remained aboard the Holiday on Friday.

"The people are being relocated to other, longer-term housing --- either mobile homes or rental units or other arrangements are made," FEMA's Eugene Brezani said. "We've had 1,800 people on the ship, (and) they've been moved on to better conditions."

Pascagoula police said the ship's departure was expected, and having it docked at the Port of Pascagoula hasn't placed any undue stress on authorities since it got here.

In fact, the ship has had all kinds of security since it docked here, with a private security firm guarding the entrance and exit gates and agents with the Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics aboard the ship to provide in-house security.

Pascagoula police have jurisdiction over the ship and investigate any reported crimes.

Since the ship's arrival, many South Mississippi residents have expressed concern over possible criminal activity brought to the area as a result.

To the contrary, Leonard said the ship's evacuees have caused few problems, though the police department is still investigating a case of reported child molestation on the ship in December. He would provide no other details.

Other reported criminal activity Leonard cited included complaints about drug possession, assaults, trespassing issues, domestic disturbances and vehicle burglaries.

"A lot of this was happening in the parking lot," Leonard said. "But it hasn't been a burden to us."Other complaints have been about suspicious persons or harassing telephone calls.

"I can't say it's been a problem," Leonard said.