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Stowaways Hit Hard in Zhejiang

Authorities in East China's Zhejiang Province have intensified their efforts to seize stowaways and suspects on the run.

As a prosperous coastal province in East China, Zhejiang has long been one of the few locations for criminals to run away from the country, said Zan Naidong, an officer with the provincial frontier guards.

"By trying to enter other countries illegally, these people are not only silly enough to risk their own lives, but they have also damaged our country's image," Zan said.

Zan said his frontier guards have beefed up their efforts to stop the criminals.

The guards have cracked down on 40 such crimes involving 334 suspects in the last two years, statistics show.

On November 2, 2000, a suspicious fishing ship was seized in Zhoushan, an island city in Zhejiang, officials said. Fifty-seven suspects trying to run a blockade were arrested on the ship.

Then on August 4, 2001, 103 people who tried to sail abroad illegally were blocked in Fengxian County near Shanghai, officials said. And on October 8, authorities said they seized a Korean vessel that was unlawfully shipping 60 Chinese into the Korean sea. Twenty-five of them died and were thrown into the ocean. Police said that the ship had left China from Ningbo, a port city in Zhejiang.

As the country's economy develops at a fast pace, causing an economic unbalance among different areas, crimes of running a blockade appear to be unavoidable and have become a headache for some targeted countries.

"Although the figures are dwindling, they still make us feel uneasy," Zan said.

According to the leader, most of the criminals arrested are from other provinces like Fujian Province and some in the country's northeast.

Most Zhejiang criminals made their unlawful trips in small groups of two or three, usually relatives, heading for Europe, authorities said.

"Recently, more and more large-scale groups of criminals from other provinces try to run blockades from Zhejiang," he said. "They usually make their way through the ocean by local fishing boats or by hiding in special containers on international liners."

The criminals wish to make use of a comparatively long coast line in Zhejiang and an advanced fishing populace with the best ocean-sailing techniques.

Unlike other criminal cases, running blockades are much more complicated. Each of them requires several links, including recruiting members, choosing location and time and transportation.

"It is not a simple job to strike criminals of running blockades," Zan said. "It needs to be a responsibility for the whole society. Education is important." He called on travel agencies, hotels and public transportation companies to be on the look-out for suspicious groups and report them.

To cover the entire province with police forces, the provincial public security bureau is planning to locate more frontier guards along the coastline.

Today, due to insufficient police forces, only one third of the 2,254-kilometre-long coastline has set up defence stations.

"More attention should be paid to fishermen, who are now forbidden to fish in the area where they used to go, because of recent agreements made with Japan and the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK)," Zan said. "Fishermen still need to pay off their debts of owning well-equipped ships. So to make a living, they are likely to turn to illegal water transportation."

Moreover, authorities also said that as many formerly publicly owned international shipping liners are now becoming privately owned through market-based reform, specific regulations on how to manage these ships should be drafted soon.

(China Daily May 8, 2002)

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