HALIFAX, Canada — Canadian military and police officials Tuesday ordered an ocean search for a freighter believed to be trying to smuggle at least 160 women and children into Canada.
The Royal Canadian Mounted Police issued a "marine alert" for a ship identified as the Winged Eagle, with Gibraltar registry. However, navy, coast guard and air-sea rescue units found no trace of the vessel.
Other government officials said the ship may be carrying between 160 and 180 spouses and children of the 174 Indians who were landed illegally Sunday near the small Nova Scotia fishing village of Charlesville, about 150 miles southwest of Halifax.
Just before the marine alert was issued, a 47-year-old Norwegian named Rolf Nygren pleaded guilty to violating Canadian immigration laws in connection with the Sunday landing. Federal Judge William Atton sentenced Nygren to a year in prison and fined him $3,500.
Nygren's lawyer, Joel Pink, said his client admitted that he had been paid $7,600 to help arrange the smuggling of the 173 Indian men and one woman. Pink denied reports that Nygren had been captain of the Amelie, the Costa Rican-registered ship that carried the 174, but said he had acted "as a go-between" with the ship's owners and representatives of the Indian refugees.
"My client was retained by some Sikhs in Europe to transport (the refugees). He made the arrangements," the lawyer said.
Government officials, who asked not to be identified, said the refugees--many of whom are believed to be members of India's Sikh religious minority--paid between $1,500 and $2,000 each to be delivered to Canada.
Police officials said they have no idea where that money went. Pink said that his client had to pay all the expenses for the illegal entry out of his payment.
He said Nygren, who was arrested Sunday at the Halifax airport, had arrived in Canada on July 5 to arrange the landing.
Another man, 36-year-old Salvir Singh, a British resident, was sentenced to three months in prison and a $3,500 fine. It remained unclear exactly what role he played.
Court sources said Nygren outlined his role as part of a plea bargain, which included the information about the Winged Eagle. Police and immigration officials refused to provide any details of Nygren's statement but added that a search is still under way for a third person suspected of helping to arrange the smuggling.
The officials did say they are examining the possibility that the 174 Indians were picked up either in West Germany or the Netherlands by the Amelie, which was seized in the Atlantic by Canadian naval forces and brought into Halifax on Monday night. Canadian officials in Holland confirmed Tuesday that the Amelie sailed June 23 from Rotterdam, although port authorities said the vessel was empty.
'Some Terrible People'
Government sources in Ottawa, who also asked not to be identified, said in a telephone interview that they were looking into the possibility that a widespread refugee smuggling ring was operating in Europe to bring people to Canada. "It seems some terrible people are victimizing these refugees," said a government official, adding that a similar operation last August had carried 155 Tamil refugees from Sri Lanka to Canada from an immigrant camp in West Germany.
The Tamils were allowed to stay, and immigration officials indicated Tuesday that the Indians also will be admitted pending a review of their status.
These officials would not discuss what they will do if efforts are made to land the dependents possibly on board the Winged Eagle.
Canadian police spokesman Supt. Allen Vaughan said the last known sighting of the Winged Eagle was in Haiti on March 30, when it was to have sailed for Miami. However, he said, Miami officials had no record of the vessel docking there.