Hong Kong police said an international human smuggling syndicate has been smashed after the arrest of 12 illegal immigrants (IIs) from the mainland and 14 suspected syndicate members in a large-scale operation on Sunday.
The 12 IIs, all men and aged between 18 and 43, were found in a 40-foot cargo container at Kwai Chung Container Terminal No 8 bound for California, United States, on the ship Sine Marsk.
The arrests were announced by Tsang Wai-hung, chief superintendent of the Organized Crime and Triad Bureau of the Hong Kong police at a press briefing Monday.
The Hong Kong police has contacted the police of Fujian Province to identify the IIs, who are believed to be from the coastal province. The US immigration authorities are also to be contacted for related investigations.
The 14 suspected syndicate members or "snakeheads," including the supposed mastermind, were arrested in more than 10 raids around Hong Kong. The 12 men and two women are aged between 21 and 40.
Three had been previously wanted by the police and one had a criminal record. Four are still at large.
All the stowaways and suspected syndicate members have been detained for further questioning.
Investigations are being conducted to determine whether the case is linked to an October raid in which 26 IIs from Fujian were found in a container at Kwai Chung terminal, also bound for Long Beach, California.
When found in the container, most of the 12 IIs, having been in the container for several hours, were showing symptoms of lack of oxygen.
The container was covered by two layers of canvas to escape detection and had inadequate ventilation.
If the container had begun its estimated 11-day journey, the situation could have turned deadly.
The container supposedly had two emergency exits, but experts said they had been welded shut.
Two of the IIs had apparently been hurt before they were locked in the container and have been sent to the hospital.
The IIs had negotiated to pay the snakeheads US$50,000 to US$60,000 apiece if they were successfully shipped to the US.
The trading company to which the "cargo" belonged and all the trading documents were forged.
Tsang denied that Hong Kong is becoming a hub for human trafficking, although more than 200 IIs have been arrested since the end of December last year.
The arrest of the suspected smugglers shows local police are acting to halt human trade, said an earlier statement of the Security Bureau.
"We are determined to continue taking vigorous actions and playing a proactive role in stemming the treacherous, inhuman trade of human smuggling," said the statement.
The bureau said it would maintain close cooperation with overseas and mainland law enforcement agencies and the territory's shipping industry to bring snakeheads to justice.
(China Daily 12/12 2000)