U.S. agents to search ship due in city today for stowaways

July 21, 1996|By John Rivera | John Rivera,SUN STAFF

Federal agents working to thwart a highly organized smuggling ring will board a ship expected in Baltimore today to search for stowaways.

An official from Mediterranean Shipping Co. confirmed that a ship from Le Havre, France, the MSC Samia, will arrive today at Dundalk Marine Terminal. Since April, five ships have arrived in Baltimore from the French port with stowaways aboard, or evidence that they had been in boxcar-sized containers that held bottles of Evian water.

The first evidence of stowaways aboard ships from Le Havre was discovered in April, said Benedict J. Ferro, U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service district director. On June 30, three men were found aboard the MSC Insa, and, on July 8, four more men were apprehended aboard the MSC Pol America. On Monday night, customs and immigration agents searched the MSC Rita and found no one, but they discovered debris stowaways had left in one of the containers.

The seven stowaways are being held at the Howard County Detention Center.

"We have determined that these people are being assisted by a facilitator in France," Ferro said. The smuggling operation has infiltrated the shipping process for Evian water, Ferro said.

"It has to involve several people, from crane operators to people who know where the container is going to be placed on the ship -- people who know the itinerary," he said.

The smuggling ring has gone to some pains to prepare the stowaways for the two-week trip across the Atlantic Ocean and for whatever might happen when they reach their destination. They are provided with food for the trip, and because they're riding in containers filled with bottles of Evian, water is in ready supply. The stowaways are given tools so they can bore a hole large enough to stick an arm through the side of the container. They can then reach the lever to open the container.

Ferro said INS agents believe one reason the stowaways disembarked here is that Baltimore is not the first port of call. Some of the ships arrived in Boston or New York, then continued down the coast. Typically, the INS and Customs Service inspect a ship only at its first stop in the United States. Therefore, the stowaways stay on until Baltimore, where there is likely to be less scrutiny.

Pub Date: 7/21/96

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