2 ships from French port arrive in Baltimore with 7 stowaways Immigration agents discover men hiding in steel containers

July 10, 1996|By Scott Higham | Scott Higham,SUN STAFF

In the past week, U.S. immigration agents have discovered seven stowaways from Eastern Europe and Russia holed up in steel containers aboard two ships bound for Baltimore from one of the world's most notorious ports -- Le Havre in France.

The stowaways were found in fine shape, despite the long trans-Atlantic journeys in the darkness of the boxcar-sized shipping containers.

The seven men brought enough food for the voyage, and they had plenty of water.

They hid in containers filled with bottles of Evian water.

"They seem to be in reasonably good health," said Steve Fickett, a deputy director of the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service in Baltimore.

Fickett and other INS officials declined to identify the men, other than to say they are from Romania, Russia, Ukraine and the former Yugoslavia. The men have been taken to the Howard County Detention Center, where they were being interviewed by INS agents.

The agents are trying to determine how the men boarded the ships, whom they paid and whether the shipping lines were involved. They also are trying to determine whether other immigrants disembarked in ports in Boston and New York, where at least one of the ships stopped before coming to Baltimore.

The first discovery came June 30, when someone aboard the Panama-registered Mscinsa radioed ahead to INS officials that stowaways had been found aboard. When the ship docked in Baltimore, INS agents found three men hiding in a steel container.

The men spent the entire trip inside one of the pitch-black containers, which are plucked off the decks of ships by giant cranes and loaded onto waiting tractor-trailers and trains.

The men had enough supplies for the trip, and they used empty Evian bottles to relieve themselves.

A second group of four stowaways was found Monday. Someone aboard the Panama-registered Pol America called ahead to report stowaways in a shipping container -- filled with Evian.

That ship had been at sea for 13 days, stopping in Boston and New York before docking in Baltimore. Both ships started out in Le Havre, where smugglers do a brisk business, dealing in everything from people to drugs and stolen merchandise.

Le Havre is also considered the last chance for the most desperate immigrants, people who cannot afford the more traditional smuggling routes through Europe to the United States, according to Benedict J. Ferro, director of the INS office in Baltimore.

"It's a place of last resort," said Ferro, who oversaw the agency's operations in Europe and Africa between 1989 and 1995 before coming to Baltimore. "It's like the old Casablanca, a collection point for people all over the world."

Pub Date: 7/10/96

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