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11 Stowaways Find Dangerous Passage

Entry: Four of the Dominican men were hospitalized for dehydration after spending a week inside a cargo container.

April 20, 2002|JOHN J. GOLDMAN and ANNA M. VIRTUE | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

MIAMI — The 11 Dominican men came to the United States in a locked, stifling cargo container in search of the American dream--and it almost cost them their lives.

Some of the stowaways, who had been trapped inside the 40-foot container for a week, were recovering in a hospital Friday, officials said.

An employee assigned to check the container seals had heard banging and muffled shouts and alerted authorities.

"We do checks of seals on unloading," said Mike Leon, security manager of Antillean Marine Shipping. "One seal was broken."

When police and fire rescuers opened the container at a marine shipping yard in Hialeah, Fla., Thursday, the temperature inside was over 100 degrees, Leon said.

"They were dehydrated," Leon said. "They are very lucky."

Frank Gonzalez, a spokesman for the Hialeah Police Department, explained that "they snuck into the container Friday [April 12], but the ship didn't sail for the U.S. until Sunday. . . . They ran out of food and water."

Gonzalez paused.

"They would rather die in their attempt to make it to our country," he said. "It says a lot for our country."

Officials said the men decided to hide in the cargo container aboard the vessel Carib Trader in Santo Domingo. They brought provisions for a three day voyage and tools, including screwdrivers, hammers, knives and a crowbar.

The stowaways used the tools to poke an air hole the size of a fist through one of the container's seals.

But, police said, they did not count on the cargo ship's schedule.

Instead of heading straight to the United States, it made another stop in the Dominican Republic and didn't leave the second port until Sunday and arrived in Florida on Thursday.

Four of the 11 people the police discovered inside the container were in the advanced stages of dehydration and were rushed to a hospital in Hialeah. The other seven were taken to three other area hospitals.

On Friday, Leon visited the three who were still hospitalized in stable condition.

"I didn't talk to them. They were tired and groggy," he said. "I let them eat and sleep."

A spokesman for the U.S. Border Patrol said all the Dominicans were charged with entering the United States illegally.

Those not in the hospital were taken to an immigration jail and will be returned to the Dominican Republic.

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