Apparent explosive device found on Mexican ferry off Cozumel

CANCUN, Mexico (AP) - Apparent undetonated explosives have been found on a ferry that runs between the Caribbean resorts of Playa del Carmen and the island of Cozumel, authorities said Friday, less than two weeks after a blast shook another ferry plying the same route.

Quintana Roo state prosecutor Miguel Angel Pech Cen said in a radio interview that the boat was anchored 500 yards (meters) from the Cozumel dock and was not in service at the time. He said a company diver reported the device, and Mexican navy divers removed it and handed it over to the Defense Department for analysis.

The announcement lent credence to reports that a Feb. 21 explosion on a ferry owned by the same company and on the same route was caused by an explosive device. That blast injured 19 Mexicans and at least five U.S. citizens. Authorities had initially suggested it could have been a mechanical malfunction.

The U.S. Embassy in Mexico said in a statement that it has barred its workers from taking any tourist ferries on that route, one of the most popular travel destinations in Mexico.

"U.S. Government employees are prohibited from using all tourist ferries on this route until further notice. Mexican and U.S. law enforcement continue to investigate," the embassy wrote.

Pech Cen argued that there was no danger to tourists because the boat was out of service and far from the dock.

The state Tourism Department said the same in a statement, and added that the vessel has not been in commercial service for over 10 months. State and federal prosecutors are investigating, it said, "and the cooperation of international agencies such as the FBI is accepted."

Among the lines of inquiry is the possibility that "the incidents are exclusively related to situations that are internal and inherent to the ferry line in question, which is not providing commercial service," the statement said.

Except for isolated shootings last year, the Caribbean coast has largely been spared the violence plaguing other parts of Mexico. The coast provides much of Mexico's tourism revenue.

The company, Barcos Caribe, whose boat was hit by the Feb. 21 blast, was suspended by the government from operating on Feb. 25, even though the firm said it had the necessary permits.

Local media have reported the company is owned by the father of former Quintana Roo state Gov. Roberto Borge, who is under arrest on corruption charges.

An employee at the firm said Friday the company's boats were not currently operating but did not immediately respond to the reports about the firm's links to the Borge family.

Photos of the supposed device published in local media showed what appeared to be a length of PVC pipe attached to the underside of a boat.