The Naval Criminal Investigative Service is investigating a series of bomb threats called in against Norfolk and Virginia Beach bases throughout Wednesday that forced several evacuations and lockdowns and affected ships and pier operations while emergency crews fanned out in response, the Navy said.
The calls were deemed not credible and normal operations had resumed by mid-to-late afternoon at both bases, Naval Station Norfolk and Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek, said Beth Baker, Navy Region Mid-Atlantic spokeswoman.
It was not immediately clear if the threats, which came in six separate phone calls, were linked, if they came from the same location or how many people were involved.
“All we can say at this point is that NCIS is working to determine who placed the calls and to determine whether they are linked,” NCIS spokesman Ed Buice said in an email Wednesday. “It’s too early to go beyond that.”
The threats began with a 6 a.m. call to Naval Station Norfolk’s 911 line, base spokeswoman Kelly Wirfel said. While the threat didn’t specify a specific area of the base, piers were locked down while an explosive ordnance disposal unit searched a vehicle near Pier 14 – where the aircraft carriers USS Abraham Lincoln and USS Harry S. Truman are moored – after a military dog detected something, she said.
Personnel on the Lincoln and Truman as well as several buildings and Piers 11 and 12, where the new aircraft carrier USS Gerald R. Ford and the USS George Washington are located, were ordered to shelter in place before an all-clear was sounded just before 11 a.m.
Baker said the vehicle, a truck, and its owner were cleared and unrelated to the earlier threat.
While crews worked to address the threat at the Norfolk base, five others began to roll in a few miles away at Little Creek.
The first call came in at 9:20 a.m. against the dock landing ship USS Whidbey Island. That was followed by a 9:55 a.m. threat made to the Admiral Joel T. Boone Branch Medical Clinic, which was evacuated but reopened following a search of the building.
About 10:30 a.m. another threat was called in against dock landing ship USS Gunston Hall, followed by another on the Personnel Support Detachment at 10:55.
The last threat came in at 1:11 p.m. against the dock landing ship USS Oak Hill, which also was targeted in another incident Monday when someone called around 2:30 p.m., threatened the ship and hung up, said Lt. Michael Hatfield, a spokesman for Expeditionary Strike Group 2. It was determined to be a prank call, Hatfield said.
Buice called the threats a “serious crime.”
Baker would not say if the bases would beef up security as a result of Wednesday’s threats.
“As a matter of policy, we don’t talk about what we do for security, but we do take the threats very seriously,” Baker said.
Wednesday’s threat also came just two days after the Norfolk base locked down its piers for several hours after watch standers reported seeing someone wearing scuba gear and goggles in the water near Pier 7. No diver was found and all ships were later cleared.
Jacqueline Bonivel of Williamsburg said her boyfriend is a sailor assigned to the Lincoln. The two exchanged text messages Wednesday morning. She said he told her the bomb scare made activity near the piers hectic, particularly after Monday’s incident kept crews stuck on ships for hours.
“Everyone’s nerves are a little on edge,” Bonivel said.
While area bases handle threats on occasion, neither Baker nor Mohr could recall recent cases in which so many were made in quick succession.
“This is outside the norm,” Mohr said.
In January, a man was arrested after a suspicious package was found at Gate 5 of the expeditionary base and the Norfolk-based amphibious assault ship USS Wasp was locked down for several hours in November 2015 after someone called in a bomb threat near where the ship was moored at Pier 11, according to Pilot archives.
NCIS is asking anyone with information to send an anonymous tip to 274637, or “CRIMES,” and type “NCIS” at the beginning of the message followed by as much detail as possible.
©2017 The Virginian-Pilot (Norfolk, Va.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.