23 Found Hidden in Cargo Ship From China

ByABC News

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

The 23 stowaways were taken to a hospital for medical evaluationbefore being transferred to a U.S. Immigration and NaturalizationService detention center, said Capt. Mike Garcia of the Long BeachFire Department.

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

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

A Long, Difficult Journey

The canvas-topped steel containers were from a cargo ship, TheMaple 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 andmattresses 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 haslong been a problem for immigration agents.

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

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