Second boatload of illegals off HK
By KIN YU
A SECOND boatload of Chinese illegal immigrants is anchored off Hongkong waters and is preparing to leave for the United States within the month, according to the director of the International Maritime Bureau (IMB), Mr Eric Ellen.
The unidentified vessel is already loaded with an estimated 300 to 400 illegals.
The vessel's crew was believed to be in China recruiting more hopefuls, Mr Ellen said.
IMB officials, in the course of their investigations into piracy activities, had come across intelligence which showed the boat was preparing to leave for the US, he said.
It is believed the ship will travel to Taiwan before leaving for the US.
Mr Ellen said his investigators discovered the cargo ship had undergone renovations including the addition of beds and stoves to accommodate the human cargo.
The journey probably will take several weeks, arriving off US coastal waters by late March.
Whether the vessel's owner and operators would accomplish this time-frame remained uncertain.
''It takes some time for them to get organised and they would want to get as many people as possible on board before leaving,'' he said.
''Three hundred is very little, particularly after what happened with the East Wood.'' Cargo vessel East Wood was reportedly hijacked to smuggle 450 Chinese into the US after leaving Hongkong in a case being investigated by the US Coast Guard.
A US immigration officer whose portfolio includes Southeast Asia confirmed that the IMB provided information to his department. However, the department has not been contacted on the latest suspected smuggling effort.
US consulate spokesman Ms Vallerie Steenson said the US Coast Guard was aware such activities took place.
Officials would ''follow all the developments as we are now doing in the East Wood case'', Ms Steenson said.
Although officials are aware that the ship now anchored off Hongkong waters might sail to the US, there is little the American or local authorities can do since it is in international waters.
If successful, the ship would follow 13 others which have already landed an estimated 5,000 illegal migrants off American waters.
The latest journey to the US was put together by smuggling syndicates which operated through Bangkok, Singapore, Taiwan and Hongkong, maritime sources said.
The captain and owner of the ship probably are the only ones among the crew to be aware of their destination.
''They don't necessarily brief the crew very much because the crew is getting paid to do a job and that is it,'' the source said.
Mr Ellen last night said IMB officials had noted the smuggling rings had been active from both Asia and Europe in recent months.
A Security Branch spokesman said the boat was outside Hongkong waters and there was little the territory could do to stop it.