Sailor jailed for smuggling 100 IIs

A SAILOR who steered an unseaworthy vessel from China, packed with 100 mainlanders in two small compartments, was yesterday jailed for five years in the High Court.

Deputy Judge Chan said the illegal immigrants faced ''misery and not a golden future'' in Hongkong.

Ng Muk-kang, 20, pleaded guilty to being a crew member assisting in the bringing of the 100 illegal immigrants to Hongkong on February 15, this year.

Senior Crown Counsel Wayne Moultrie said a Marine Police launch picked up on radar a vessel with no navigation lights. The vessel did not stop when it was instructed to and tried to evade the police.

After a 10-minute chase, it was stopped. Marine Police then boarded the 21-metre Wah Loi. Ng was found inside the wheelhouse but no one else was visible.

Mr Moultrie said two compartments were covered with wooden boards. When they were opened, 84 men and 16 women were found.

Under caution, Ng admitted he had agreed with a mainlander, Wong Wing, to convey the unauthorised entrants on board the vessel for a reward.

The court heard the vessel was inspected and the hull planking and timber structures were found to be deteriorating. There was no life-saving or fire-fighting equipment.

There was no air horn or sound-signalling equipment on board for use in restricted visibility.

Based on these findings, Mr Moultrie said a ship's surveyor concluded the vessel was not seaworthy.

Defence counsel Luke McGuinniety, pleading for leniency, said Ng committed the offence under duress as he was indebted to the alleged snakehead Wong.

It was claimed that Wong had paid for Ng's father's medical treatment and funeral. The family could not repay Wong, so this plan was devised.

Counsel said Ng at first refused but later agreed reluctantly to steer the vessel to Hongkong in return for having all his debts wiped out.

Mr McGuinniety said Ng's father had previously worked for Wong, steering a boat to Hongkong to collect waste iron for recycling in China.

Deputy Judge Chan found this was a large-scale syndicated operation with many illegal immigrants.

The judge noted the vessel was not seaworthy and that, if there had been an accident or a fire had broken out, the illegals would have stood little chance of survival.

The judge took a starting point of six years and reduced it to five for Ng's plea of guilty and mitigation.