23 Found Hidden in Cargo Ship From China

L O N G  B E A C H, Calif., April 3, 2001 -- Nearly two dozen illegal immigrants were found huddling inside cramped cargo containers at Long Beach Harbor on Monday night, and authorities said they had holed up there for at least three weeks on a voyage from China.

The 23 stowaways were taken to a hospital for medical evaluation before being transferred to a U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service detention center, said Capt. Mike Garcia of the Long Beach Fire Department.

The immigrants were discovered shortly before 10 p.m. inside two containers in a dockside storage area after a stowaway fell and broke his ankle while climbing out of one container, Garcia said.

"Some of them came out willingly, but a few initially refused to come out," he said.

A Long, Difficult Journey

The canvas-topped steel containers were from a cargo ship, The Maple River, that left China on March 14 and stopped in Vancouver, British Columbia before arriving Monday in Long Beach, Garcia said.

The 25- to 40-foot-long containers contained food, water and mattresses piled closely together.

"They were living in deplorable conditions," Garcia said. "Fortunately, the top of the container was canvas and not steel, which provided better ventilation for them."

Attempts to smuggle Chinese citizens into the United States has long been a problem for immigration agents.

More than 120 Chinese stowaways were arrested at West Coast ports last year. The U.S. Coast Guard found 48 illegal immigrants during January 2000 hiding in cargo containers in the adjoining Long Beach and Los Angeles harbors.

"I wouldn't say we see this on a regular basis but it's more frequent than we would like," Garcia said.