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Tuesday, April 3, 2001

23 Stowaways Found in Hold of Ship From China

Long Beach: The discovery is made after one man falls from a cargo container, breaks ankle.

By LOUIS SAHAGUN, Times Staff Writer

After a stowaway fell from a cargo container and broke his ankle at the Port of Long Beach, 22 others were discovered Monday night. They had survived more than two weeks at sea in the hold of a ship from China.

The stowaways were discovered as a crane was off-loading cargo from the ship Maple River at Berth 254, Long Beach Fire Capt. Mike Garcia said. The ship had left mainland China March 14 with one stop in Vancouver.

Paramedics were examining the stowaways to determine their conditions.

"We were alerted of an ankle injury when someone fell out of the container during a security investigation," Garcia said. "We're not sure if he was exiting the container, or if it was open and he fell out."

The stowaways apparently had survived inside two containers, which had been outfitted with blankets, mattresses and food supplies, he said. Thirteen people were in one container and 10 in another.

"Some of them came out willingly, but a few initially refused to come out," Garcia said. "The container was eventually lowered off the ship and onto the ground. That's when we confirmed 23 people inside."

The man who broke his ankle tried to scramble over the top of the canvas-covered container, but fell 10 feet.

The canvas tops on the containers allowed the stowaways to enter and leave during the trip, Garcia said. The containers were stacked on top of others, which he said was "quite fortunate."

All of the stowaways were turned over to U.S. immigration authorities, he said.

"Unfortunately, we've seen this kind of thing in the past," Garcia said. "Some of these voyages take months to complete."

Discoveries of stowaways from China in cargo ships have occurred several times over the past few years.

In October 1999, 54 illegal immigrants from China were found on a freighter docking in Long Beach. Investigators said each had paid smugglers more than $50,000.

In January 2000, 18 Chinese nationals were found inside a cargo container at the port of Long Beach on a ship that had left Hong Kong 20 days earlier. A week earlier, 30 immigrants were found in cargo containers in two incidents at the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles. The containers in each case apparently had been loaded in Hong Kong.

In the same month, 18 men were found in the cargo hold of a ship in Seattle. They had spent two weeks crossing the Pacific. Three had died.

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