Archive for April, 2012

23 Chinamen

April 15, 2012

Tales from the Nuclear Age

Copyright © 2012 by Charles Glassmire

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Apr. 14, 2012

23 Chinamen

           Now that nuclear weapons have been reduced in size to something carried by a single person in a backpack, or easily concealed inside a shipping container (which are 40 foot long metal boxes carried on cargo ships and loaded, presumably, with tons of goods for U.S. markets) the security of United States borders is a critical matter. U.S. citizens labor under the assumption that our borders are “secure”.

          Recognizing the inherent danger, in 2006 the United States Congress passed the Secure  Access for Every Port Act (SAFE Ports) of 2006(1), which requires the Homeland Security Department (HSD) and Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Department to initiate daily inspection of 100% of all cargo entering the borders of the United States. This capability was to be operational by January of 2012.

          Two months ago, on February 8th of 2012, the House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Border and Maritime Security held some pertinent hearings. Before the congress, California Representative Janice Hahn (D) asked some interesting questions of officials from both departments. I am paraphrasing her questions here:

     Q:… As of today, do we fulfill the terms of 100 % scanning of entering shipments?

     A: No ma’m.

     Q: What percentage do we scan?

     A: About 5 percent daily.

     Q: How many shipments does that represent?

     A: About two thousand shipments entering the U.S. …

           It seems clear that government agencies with the designated duty to inspect shipments for radiation, nuclear weapons, drug contraband and illegal aliens entering the United States are woefully deficient.

          Admittedly the task is formidable. Estimates vary, some put the number of entering shipments as high as 50,000 per day, but the testimony above seems to set the number at 40,000 per day. According to U.S. Customs and Border Protection, these entering shipments are spread over 329 official ports of entry(3), including seaports, airports and ground based entry points. However, the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach account for about 40% of all entering shipments. They are the two busiest seaports in the United States.

          So being from California, Representative Hahn has a serious interest in scanning containers inbound to her state. No wonder. During her questioning she reminded the members of HSD and CBP that this was an urgent matter, and not to forget about the “19 Chinese” incident.

          Years earlier, on Monday April 2nd 2001, at about 11 p.m. a security Guard was patrolling the Long Beach seaport docks – Birth number 254. Tied up alongside was the Chinese vessel Maple River.  She had been loaded (likely in either Hong Kong or Shanghai) by the China-based shipping line COSCO and had departed China on the 14th of March. After a 19 day sea journey and a stop at Vancouver, she finally arrived at the Port of Long Beach.

          Making his usual rounds, the guard probed the darkness with his flashlight, and noticed a dark bundle lying beside a stack of 40 foot long shipping containers. Then he heard a low moan coming from the shadows. As he approached, the “bundle” came alive. It was an injured foreign person, lying in a restricted area where he was not permitted to be. Further, it became evident he was in great pain from an injured ankle, later determined to be broken. He did not speak English and was unable to show passport or other identification. The Guard radioed the presence of a wounded illegal, and paramedics from the Long Beach Fire Department were summoned to render assistance.

          During questioning by a translator, the wounded man confessed he had emerged from a shipping container with a canvas top-cover while it was being offloaded from the ship, and had fallen from the top of the container, breaking his ankle. Soon Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) agents arrived on the scene, and suspicion of additional illegals was immediately aroused. Likely canvas-covered containers were surrounded and one officer broke the wire seal on the door to a suspect container. Carefully he swung open the doors.

          What first emerged from the darkness inside was a powerful stench. The flashlights then revealed frightened faces peering from a huddled group, some shielding their eyes against the light. The container later was found to contain blankets, mattresses, water and food storage and a makeshift toilet. They were ordered out of their surroundings, but some refused to come out. Officers had to go in and forcibly remove several. The count was 9 plus the wounded man. One was determined to have badly injured hands from rope burns and was treated. All were determined to have no valid documents. The next issue was whether they were alone.

          INS agents had sometimes found even larger groups and suspected the presence of additional stowaways. Other canvas-topped containers were opened and searched. Another container was found to contain thirteen additional Chinese illegals. Sources differ as to the situation in the second container. Some report that four of the thirteen were found dead, making a total of 19 surviving the ocean voyage.

          Some told officials they had paid a sum of $50,000 to be smuggled to the U.S.  Fire Captain Mike Garcia said “unfortunately, we have seen this kind of thing in the past. Some of these journeys take several months to complete…Despite deplorable living conditions inside the stowaways were in good health…”.(4)(5) 

          He noted the containers were stacked with the canvas covered ones at the top. This was fortunate for the inhabitants, he said, allowing breathing air to enter their living spaces. The stowaways were transported to the INS Terminal Island processing center.

(… To be Continued)

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(1)   www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/PLAW-109pub1347/contentdetails.html

(2)   ErikFloden: http://armscontrolcenter.org/policy/nuclearterrorism/articles /Bordersecurity

(3)   www.cbp.gov/sp/cgov/toolbox/contacts/ports

(4)   Los Angeles Times, “23 Stowaways Found…” Louis Sahagun Times Staff Writer, April 03, 2001.

(5)   Houston Chronicle, “23 stowaways found…”, April 3, 2001.

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