22 Smuggled Chinese Arrested At The Seattle Seaport

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents are continuing to piece together the details this morning of a human smuggling scheme that resulted in the arrest of 22 Chinese nationals at the Seattle seaport overnight.

Several of the Chinese were initially spotted by private port security personnel wandering in a cargo area at around 1:00 a.m. today. The port personnel contacted the Department of Homeland Security and ICE agents and officers from U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) responded.

This morning, ICE agents are interviewing the aliens, including 18 men and 4 women, in an effort to learn more about the circumstances behind their arrival. Historically, ICE agents say smuggling fees for migrants from China range from $30,000 to $60,000 a person. Despite reportedly spending at least 15 days inside the sealed container, all of the smuggled migrants appear to be in good health.

So far, agents have determined the aliens were smuggled into the United States inside a 40-foot long shipping container on board the MV Rotterdam, a Liberian-registered vessel that arrived here yesterday morning. The vessel, which is operated by China Shipping, embarked from Shanghai March 23. Prior to arriving in Seattle, it also took on cargo in Ningbo, China and Busan, South Korea.

“Human smuggling is a dangerous, multi-billion dollar criminal enterprise that puts those involved at significant risk, especially in this type of situation. These containers are designed to carry cargo, not people,” said Leigh Winchell, special agent in charge for ICE investigations in Seattle. “ICE is committed to working with our partners in the Department of Homeland Security not only to disrupt this kind of activity, but to identify and dismantle the criminal organizations behind it.”

“Once again, CBP was on the scene as the first line of defense in cargo security and against dangerous illegal activity posing a threat to our nation’s security,” said Tom Hardy, CBP director of field operations for Seattle. “CBP screens 100 percent of all maritime containers that pose a risk for terrorism at foreign ports before they are shipped to the United States.”

Officers at the scene say the stench coming from the shipping container used to smuggle the aliens was overwhelming. Inside, agents found piles of discarded food packages, blankets, and containers filled with human waste. In addition to food and water, the containers were outfitted with car batteries to power small portable fans and other items.

After agents complete the initial interviews, the Chinese nationals will be transported to ICE detention facilities in the Seattle area where they will be held pending review of their cases.

Last night’s discovery marks the first human smuggling incident uncovered at the Seattle seaport in more than six years. On January 10, 2000, officers from the former Immigration and Naturalization Service intercepted two cargo containers on two different vessels carrying a total of 37 smuggled Chinese aliens. Three of the Chinese nationals died during the journey. The surviving aliens told investigators the three became seasick during the trip and succumbed to dehydration.