U.S. holding 5 found on ship Stowaways arrested after escape attempt.

May 07, 1991|By Jon Morgan | Jon Morgan,Evening Sun Staff

Due to an editing error, a story in the first two editions of yesterday's Evening Sun said five stowaways aboard a freighter in Chesapeake Bay became violent when they learned they were going to be turned over to authorities.

Actually, it was their attempts to escape confinement aboard the ship that prompted the captain to ask the Coast Guard to arrest the stowaways, according to federal officials and witnesses.

Five stowaways were in federal custody today awaiting return to their native Dominican Republic after they were arrested aboard a freighter in Chesapeake Bay.

FOR THE RECORD - CORRECTION

The men, who boarded the 554-foot Maritime Lapis while it was berthed in Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic, were discovered a few days ago and were locked in a cabin by crew members, authorities said.

Yesterday afternoon the stowaways, trying to escape, broke furniture and windows, said Paul Whitin, the Maryland bay pilot who was guiding the ship into port at the time. One who got out of the room tried to jump overboard, Whitin said.

"It was one thing after another," he said. "Finally, the captain came to me and said we've got to call the Coast Guard."

The Coast Guard dispatched a pair of 41-foot cutters about 2:30 p.m. yesterday and intercepted the ship near the mouth of the Choptank River on the Eastern Shore. The cutters and a Maryland Department of Natural Resources helicopter escorted the freighter to Annapolis, where federal agents boarded the ship and arrested the men about 6:15 p.m.

"Once the Coast Guard came alongside, they [the stowaways] were very peaceful," Whitin said.

Generally, stowaways are detained aboard a ship for the return voyage. But the escape attempt prompted federal officials to arrest the men for illegally entering the country, said Don Crocetti, deputy director of the Maryland office of the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service.

If a ship has been damaged and the owner decides to prosecute, other charges can be filed, Crocetti said.

He declined to identify the men other than to say they were citizens of the Dominican Republic and ranged in age from 18 to 23.

Coast Guard Chief Petty Officer Henry Singleton said the men had threatened violence but were arrested without incident. The ship will be inspected for damage, he said.

The ship docked last night at Bethlehem Steel's pier at Sparrows Point, where the vessel was scheduled to pick up a load of steel. The freighter is registered in Singapore and has a Korean crew.

Paul Lang, an attorney who handles cases involving stowaways, said there are a few incidents at the Port of Baltimore every year. They rarely involve violence, he said.

Under maritime law, a ship owner is responsible for a stowaway. Federal officials can order the carrier to return the stowaway under guard to his or her native land at the carrier's expense, Lang said. The carrier can be fined if the stowaway escapes. Even if a stowaway is arrested and sentenced to prison, the ship owner must pay to return him to his native country at the end of his sentence, Lang said.

"It's sad," said Whitin, noting the rigors the stowaways endured trying to enter the country.

The typical stowaway is not the adventurer depicted in movies, but is a young man fleeing the poverty of his homeland, Lang said.

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