Two Chinese nationals indicted for smuggling immigrants in a cargo container
January 14, 2000
From staff and wire reports
SEATTLE, Washington -- Two men have been indicted on charges of trying to smuggle 12 Chinese nationals into the United States inside a cargo container on board a ship traveling from Hong Kong.
A federal grand jury returned a four-count indictment against Yu Zheng and Sheng Ding, both illegal immigrants from China, U.S. Attorney Kate Pflaumer said Thursday. Each faces up to 40 years in prison.
Zheng and Ding were arrested January 2 as they waited in a van parked at the Port of Seattle. The stowaways were found inside a filthy cargo container when it was unloaded from the ship OOCL Faith.
Prosecutors said Zheng and Ding charged up to $60,000 for each person smuggled, and were responsible for putting the 12 in the 40-foot container and placing the container onboard the ship.
Three stowaways found dead in Seattle
In the past two-and-a-half weeks, 136 Chinese on eight ships have been seized at ports in California, Washington state and Vancouver, British Columbia.
In another incident in Seattle, customs investigators on Monday found 18 stowaways in a container on a vessel from Hong Kong. Three were dead and seven required hospitalization.
Canadian customs inspector John Henwood in Vancouver described similarly severe conditions for smuggled Chinese. He recently discovered some locked in a dark steel container, using buckets for toilets, a small generator for power and stored water and food for nourishment.
"It was pretty dirty," Henwood said. "Not a good way to travel, definitely not first class."
The Chinese smuggling trend has sparked discussion about what can be done to curb the illegal immigration, from fining or seizing ships to installing container-scanning equipment at ports and strengthening efforts to detect stowaways before ships leave Asian ports.
Chinese smugglers thought to earn billions
U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service officials have said they do not believe the shipping companies themselves are behind the smuggling efforts.
Chinese gangs are believed to be responsible for arranging for people to board ships in exchange for exorbitant fees. Investigators estimate that Chinese smuggling generates $10 billion a year for organized crime.
"Intelligence coming out of the People's Republic of China talks of 18 million people poised to put themselves in that degree of peril to make the type of voyage to one country, or another," said Cpl. Grant Learned of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.
Many of those who reach the West Coast head for New York, according to George Varnai with Citizenship and Immigration in Canada.
"There is a huge network there, a network that is ... able to house, to locate and employ people in various businesses, so they can begin paying off the huge indentured servitude they have agreed to," Varnai said.
Hong Kong officials and shipping executives said this week they will try to stop the trafficking.
Shipping and customs officials said they can't search every container, but have promised to target those with soft canvas tops, favored by some smugglers because they allow air to filter to people inside.
Some say rival smuggling gangs may be anonymously tipping off authorities, trying to drive each other out of business.
Correspondent Don Knapp and The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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