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NAVAL STATION ROTA, Spain — The Navy is trying to find out who broke into a ship mail container filled with packages for sailors and stole everything from potato chips to DVDs.

Postal clerks learned about the container Feb. 27 after the U.S.-chartered ship carrying the mail arrived in the Spanish port city of Algeciras. When the 20-foot container filled with nearly a half-ton of mail arrived in Rota, clerks found the security seals breached and the contents ransacked.

Petty Officer 1st Class Jose Malave, a Navy postal clerk, said the thief or thieves rifled through the top layer of packages, taking items and leaving empty cardboard boxes behind.

“Contents were all over the place,” Malave said.

The thief or thieves ripped open 75 of the 329 packages, taking Playstation video games, DVDs, CDs and snack food sent to sailors aboard ships deployed in the Mediterranean Sea and Persian Gulf.

A half-eaten bag of chips from one package was thrown on top of the mail. Family photographs yanked out of envelopes were scattered throughout the containers.

“They even opened up their underwear, brand-new underwear [and] T-shirts, they opened the bag and just threw them all over the place,” Malave said. “I guess they wiped their hands with it.”

About three out of the four packages ripped apart were supplies. No mission-essential or classified equipment or documents were taken, said Lt. John Gray, Rota’s supply officer.

After noticing the container had been broken into, the military used bomb-sniffing dogs to go through the packages and search for explosives. Postal clerks donned protective gear to sift through the mail.

They then began the tedious task of matching custom forms with items opened and left behind. Those that could be matched with a specific package and address were bagged and sent with a letter of explanation.

Mail that could not be identified was sent to a stateside mail recovery center, which will hold it for a period of time until it is claimed. Those who paid insurance on packages damaged can make a claim to their nearest post office.

Clerks do not know the cost of the items stolen, but putting a value on personal items would be difficult.

Clerks were able to match a 10-by-13-inch framed family picture with a sailor because his name was on the photo.

“We were really glad, especially on that one, because that had sentimental value,” Malave said.

Navy investigators are trying to determine who took the mail and when the container was raided. The container originated in New Jersey and was trucked to Charleston, S.C., where workers loaded it onto the SL Value cargo ship.

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