Officials Keep Lid On Stowaways

Officials keep lid on stowaways
Human smuggling; Will not reveal gender, ages or nationalities

The Gazette
October 8, 2010

Authorities are being tight-lipped about the nine foreign nationals being detained by Canadian immigration officials in a case of possible human smuggling.

The stowaways were found yesterday aboard a huge container ship that docked at the Port of Montreal.

The Canada Border Services Agency said the nine foreigners, who boarded in Casablanca, Morocco, are in good health. Spokesperson Jacqueline Roby would not comment on a media report the stowaways were found in a container with a false-bottom compartment, and she would not reveal the individuals' gender, ages or nationality.

“We have to be very careful with information like that because if it is human trafficking -those details could be part of the investigation,” Roby said. She would not say where the group is being held, but noted there is a CBSA facility in Laval.

The group can be detained for at least two business days or until a hearing at the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, which is expected Monday at Complexe Guy Favreau, Roby added.

“We are trying to establish their identities. We can detain them if we are not certain they would show up at certain immigration proceedings.”

A Port of Montreal employee said the group was discovered on the MSC Lugano at 11 a.m. on Tuesday in international waters as the 240-metre-long behemoth approached Canada.

“This was not a surprise,” said the employee, who spoke on condition his name not be published. After they were found, the stowaways were “well cared for, fed and cleaned up” by the time the ship docked shortly before 2 a.m. Thursday. CBSA and RCMP agents were waiting to take the group into custody, the employee said.

Roby said the stowaways got aboard in Morocco. Records for the Lugano on the Port of Montreal's website indicate its most recent stop before Montreal was Sines, Portugal.

The 22-year-old Lugano belongs to the Mediterranean Shipping Company, a Swissbased conglomerate with 423 vessels worldwide. The ship, which flies under the Marshall Islands flag, arrived at a Port of Montreal terminal operated by Termont, a stevedoring firm, located near Notre Dame and de Boucherville Sts.

Termont did not return calls yesterday from The Gazette.

Jean-Paul Lejeune, the Port of Montreal's director of communications, said only cargo expediters and shipping companies usually know the detailed contents of vessels and their containers. Port officials are informed only when there are regulated materials on board, he said.

“We don't do searches,” Lejeune said. “It's not our job. The containers are sealed until customs officials deal with them here in Montreal.”

Container traffic was up 12.6 per cent in the first half of this year over the first half of 2009, he noted. Nearly 1.25 million containers were handled at the Port of Montreal in 2009, representing 11,266,000 tonnes of cargo.

“We have no police,” Lejeune said. Policing is left up to the RCMP and Montreal police.

However, the port has security guards, and 350 security cameras are trained on the barbed-wire fencing that lines the port's 20-kilometrelong expanse of shore.