July 22, 2002 – Federal Immigration and Naturalization Service officials detained at least 14 nationals of the Dominican Republic, including six minors, who apparently had stowed away aboard a vessel that docked Friday at the Gordon Finch Molasses Pier on St. Croix's South Shore.
Ivan Ortiz Delgado, INS spokesman, said crew members of the Alum Saleras said they found the stowaways and notified local officials. He said 23 crew members and the captain were questioned by both INS and U.S. Customs officials.
There were conflicting figures as to the number of individuals apprehended. A Police Department official said 16, an INS official said 19 and the general manager for the ship's agent said 14.
A Port Authority employee said the vessel, en route from Kingston, Jamaica, arrived about 8 a.m. Friday and unloaded a shipment of galvalume. Its next scheduled port of call was St. Vincent.
Alex Moorhead, Hovensa vice president for government affairs and community relations, said the Alum Saleras was not docked at refinery facilities. A Port Authority source said Hovensa, at VIPA's request, provided a pilot boat and two 6,000-horsepower tugboats to assist with berthing the 593-foot vessel at the Molasses Pier.
Since the aliens had not come ashore when they were apprehended, Ortiz said, "the shipping agent is responsible for their return and all charges associated with their repatriation to the Dominican Republic."
Ray Hamilton, general manager of Merwin Shipping, the ship's agent for all commercial vessels calling at St. Croix, said crew members reported finding the stowaways in the hold of the ship. Authorities called to the pier detained the group without allowing them ashore.
Hamilton said the normal procedures when aliens are found aboard a ship are to detain them, charter a flight with armed security, and transport them to the consulate of the Dominican Republic in Puerto Rico. The vessel they are found aboard can be fined $50,000 or more, including $3,300 per stowaway. He said vessels calling at the Dominican Republic are inspected before leaving port, but stowaways could be in the water nearby awaiting the opportunity to get aboard.
On Saturday, the Alum Saleras was escorted out to sea to ensure the departure of the detainees from U.S. shores. "The INS saw them off," Hamilton, and ordered the ship to return the group to the Dominican Republic and turn them over to authorities there. He said INS and Customs authorities agreed to this unusual procedure in part because of the children among the aliens, who could not be accommodated at the Golden Grove Correctional Facility while standard procedures were followed.
He estimated it could cost the ship's owner about $20,000 for security and transporting the detainees back to the Dominican Republic and said it would delay the vessel two days in reaching St. Vincent.
According to Hamilton, some of the aliens were clinging to the rudder when authorities arrived. He said one "said it was best to kill him, because he can't go back."
"They are looking for freedom," Hamilton said of the aliens. "It's a sad thing." Interviews with members of the group indicated that it had initially consisted of about 30 people. The others were unaccounted for on St. Croix.
Ortiz said 11 Dominicanos were detained aboard a vessel in Puerto Rico last week after a crew member heard sounds coming from a container in the ship. Seven were ordered to be returned to the Dominican Republic, but four were arrested for having previously entered the United States illegally, he said.
On June 30, police took 20 Chinese aliens seeking asylum into custody at Rainbow Beach. Ortiz said when illegal immigrants are arrested on land, they are turned over to the U.S. Attorney's office for prosecution, then federal authorities decide whether to allow them to post bond, repatriate them or process their application for asylum — which he said can take two years.
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