Golden Venture

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The Golden Venture was a 147-foot-long (45 m) cargo ship that smuggled 286 undocumented immigrants from China (mostly from Fujian province) along with 13 crew members that ran aground on the beach at Fort Tilden in Rockaway Beach in Queens, New York on June 6, 1993, at around 2 a.m. after a mutiny of sorts by one smuggler who had locked up the captain.[1] The ship had sailed from Thailand, stopped in Kenya and circled the Cape of Good Hope, then headed northwest across the Atlantic Ocean to New York City on its four-month voyage. 10 people drowned in their attempts to flee the stranded ship and get to shore in the United States.

The survivors were taken into custody by the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) and were held in various prisons throughout the U.S. while they applied for the right of asylum. Roughly 10% were granted asylum, and minors were released, while about half the remainder were deported (some being accepted by South American countries). Some remained in immigration prison for years fighting their cases, the majority in York, Pennsylvania. The final 52 persons were released by President Bill Clinton on February 27, 1997.

This case was an early test of the system of detaining asylum-seekers in prisons, a practice which has continued in the U.S., Australia, and United Kingdom. It was also notable because some detainees created more than 10,000 folk art sculptures or Chinese paper folding, papier-mâché, and recycled materials while in York County Prison; these were later exhibited throughout the U.S.

One of those behind the Golden Venture was a Chinese gang leader named Guo Liang Chi, known mainly by his street name of Ah Kay.[2] Ah Kay was the leader of the Fuk Ching gang, which up to early 1993, had been the most powerful Asian gang in New York City.[3] Ah Kay was a Chinese gangster who smuggled people to other countries otherwise, or snakehead, as well as a cold-blooded gangster who killed and tortured numerous people throughout his career.[4][page needed] Ah Kay was arrested in Hong Kong and eventually extradited to the U.S. Federal investigators acknowledged that they were less interested in prosecuting Mr. Guo than in hearing what he had to say. After he cooperated with the U.S. government in at least 15 different federal criminal cases over a period of many years, including the prosecution of 35 Chinatown gang members, he eventually received a light sentence.

On the other hand, on June 22, 2005 Cheng Chui Ping (known within some communities as "Sister Ping" or "Big Sister Ping") was convicted for smuggling illegal immigrants and for money laundering in this case. Ah Kay testified against her during her May–June 2005 trial. Ms. Cheng became a snakehead, primarily as an investor. She charged up to US$40,000 per person for the voyage from Asia to New York in the suffocating hold of the rogue vessel. Although Ms. Cheng provided cash to buy the aging vessel in Thailand, trial evidence showed that she did not view the Golden Venture's voyage as an important business deal,[5] even though the gross take for all involved would have been around $8.5 million – if all of the immigrants aboard had paid or been ransomed by their families. She owned restaurants, a clothing store, real estate in Chinatown, apartments in Hong Kong, and a farm in South Africa. Evidence revealed that her main, multimillion-dollar business was an underground banking network that stretched from New York to Thailand, Singapore, Hong Kong, and China. On March 17, 2006, she was sentenced to the maximum of 35 years in federal prison despite her protests that she was forced to carry out the work by Triad gangs. The federal judge pointed out the inhumane travel conditions forced on the immigrants and her use of gangsters to collect debts and ransoms in justifying the sentence.[6] The immigrants held in the cramped hold of the freighter were forced to live on a diet of rice, dirty water and spoiled food as it sailed on its 4-month voyage to New York City.

Renamed the United Caribbean and used for a while as a cargo vessel in the Caribbean, the ship was later purchased by Palm Beach County for $60,000 and deliberately sunk as an artificial reef in 70 feet of water about one mile off the south coast of Florida near Boca Raton Inlet.[7] The ship, which had been built in 1969, became part of the Palm Beach Artificial Reef Program when it was sunk there on August 22, 2000.[8] This wreck is a scuba diving destination and has now broken into three pieces, courtesy of the 2004 Hurricanes Hurricane Frances and Jeanne.[9]

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References[edit]

  1. ^ Faison, Seth. 12 Indicted on Charges of Smuggling Aliens. The New York Times – June 22, 1993
  2. ^ Faison, Seth. Chinatown Gang Leader to Be Returned to U.S. The New York Times – April 12, 1994
  3. ^ Faison, Seth. 18 Are Indicted In Smuggling Of Immigrants. The New York Times – September 30, 1993
  4. ^ Keefe, Patrick Radden. The Snakehead: An Epic Tale of the Chinatown Underworld and the American Dream (New York: Doubleday, 2009)
  5. ^ Preston, Julia. Prosecutors Say Defendant in Immigrant Smuggling Case Ran an Underground Empire. The New York Times – May 23, 2005
  6. ^ Keefe, Patrick Radden. "The Snakehead: The Criminal Odyssey of Chinatown's Sister Ping". The New Yorker. April 24, 2006
  7. ^ Meadows, Karin. Golden Venture sinks to form artificial reef. Sarasota Herald Tribune (AP) - August 23, 2000. p. 5B
  8. ^ Wrecks - Fort Lauderdale, FL. Scuba Network
  9. ^ South Florida & Boca Raton diving wrecks. Sunstar Aquatic Services

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