LONG BEACH : Crates That Washed Ashore Held Only Shell Containers

Nearly 60 wooden crates that washed ashore, alarming holiday beach-goers with their "ammunition" label, held harmless mortar shell containers mistakenly dumped from a ship, a Navy spokesman said Tuesday.

Spokesmen for the Navy and Coast Guard said they had fielded dozens of calls since the boxes began washing ashore last weekend along a 30-mile stretch of coast. The crates were sighted from Huntington Beach in Orange County north to San Pedro and 26 miles southwest on Santa Catalina Island.

They are not dangerous, said Navy Lt. Karl Johnson. "They are packing tubes," he said. "Cardboard with an aluminum or tin bottom that is used to transport the actual mortar round."

A Navy statement said the crates were "incorrectly disposed of by the San Diego-based dock landing ship USS Comstock" on June 25. The ship was taking part in training exercises, the statement said. The Navy does not use mortars, which are infantry weapons.

Fifty-five of the approximately 60 missing crates have been recovered, and the search for the rest continues.

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