Mother of Florida Teen Lost at Sea Wants Recovered Boat 'Handled as If It Were a Possible Crime Scene': 'Nothing Should Be Ruled Out'

"Nothing should be ruled out until the vessel is fully examined and all possibilities are either ruled in or ruled out," Pamela Cohen said

Photo: Photograph by Steven Martine

The 19-foot Seacraft boat that missing Florida teens Austin Stephanos and Perry Cohen took into the Atlantic Ocean from Jupiter Inlet on July 24 is back in Florida.

Recovered by the crew of a Norwegian freighter 100 miles off the Bermuda coast, the boat arrived in Port Everglades late Sunday, transported in a shipping container on the USA-registered Yorktown Express.

Like Austin’s iPhone 6 – which was recovered in a latched compartment and quickly returned to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) – the boat itself now becomes a potential point of contention between the boys’ families and law enforcement. At issue is whether the boat will undergo a full forensics evaluation before being returned to its registered owner, Carly Black, Austin’s mother.

“The FWC will examine the vessel for new information and return the boat to the family,” the agency’s Public Information Coordinator Robert Klepper tells PEOPLE. “That is the extent of our comments right now.”

Klepper would not give details on just how, by whom or to what extent the boat will be analyzed, or whether DNA or fingerprint evidence will be collected.

Pamela Cohen, Perry’s mother, filed a lawsuit in April, seeking to have the FWC keep Austin’s phone in law enforcement’s custody until a full forensics investigation could be performed and any retrievable data analyzed for clues as to the boys’ fate. Instead, the agency returned the phone to the Stephanos family. Days later, Palm Beach County Judge Gregory Keyser ordered the phone overnighted to manufacturer Apple, Inc., where a team worked around the clock to power on the phone, but failed.

Now, via her attorney Guy Bennett Rubin, Cohen has reached out to both the FWC and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, asking that the boat be forensically analyzed before it also is returned to Austin’s family.

“The FWC has indicated publicly it would ‘take a look’ at the boat when it arrives at Port Everglades, however my client would like FWC to do more than just ‘take a look.’ If FWC, which clearly had jurisdiction over this investigation, does not intend to re-open that investigation and conduct a thorough forensic evaluation of the vessel, then Ms. Cohen would like FDLE to exercise its jurisdiction to take over this investigation to its conclusion,” Rubin wrote on Cohen’s behalf in a letter send to both agencies.

“Alternatively, if FWC wishes to maintain its jurisdiction over this investigation, then we would request FDLE provide support through its forensic expertise and laboratories. Simply put, my client would like a proper forensic examination by qualified investigators and have the boat handled as if it were a possible crime scene. This is not to say we believe a crime was committed, but rather nothing should be ruled out until the vessel is fully examined and all possibilities are either ruled in or ruled out.”

The letter states that Rubin and Cohen have been in touch with Black, who “is in favor of such an examination and indicates to us that she will consent to law enforcement requests in this regard.”

FDLE Public Information Officer Molly Best confirmed receipt of Rubin’s letter.

“The firm has requested investigators conduct a forensic evaluation of the vessel. We are reviewing the request,” she tells PEOPLE.

Meanwhile, the FWC last week filed a motion with the Palm Beach County Court to be dismissed as a party from Cohen’s lawsuit regarding Austin’s iPhone, stating that its examination of the iPhone found no probable cause that a crime was committed and that the phone now is in Apple’s control and custody.

“Having no further interest in this matter, FWC respectfully asks this Court to dismiss FWC as a party to this action,” the motion read.

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