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SAIPAN, Northern Mariana Islands (July 15, 1999 – Saipan Tribune)---Four rusty vessels that ferried hundreds of undocumented Chinese migrants to the Marianas will be disposed of by sinking them into the high seas, U.S. Marshal Jack Salas said yesterday.

The vessels, docked at San Jose Harbor on Tinian, have been turned over to the U.S. Marshal Service by the Immigration and Naturalization Service, the result of the ships’ "seized properties" status.

The vessels, which were intercepted by the U.S. Coast Guard on separate occasions earlier this year, carried over 500 Chinese migrants who were intending to enter Guam illegally. The migrants later were held at Tinian's "tent city."

Except for those charged in federal court with alien smuggling, the illegal migrants have been flown back to China, but the vessels remain sitting at Tinian harbor.

Earlier, Coast Guard Capt. Scott J. Glover said INS had turned over the vessels to the CNMI government, upon their arrival at Tinian.

The local government, however, found no use for the dilapidated vessels. It relinquished its custody of the boats and asked INS to take them back for disposal.

The CNMI Department of Labor and Immigration wrote to INS, saying that the continued stay of the vessels at Tinian port posed a major threat to the health of island residents, especially with the onset of the rainy season.

"INS has turned the boats over to the U.S. Marshall Service, since they have the resources to dispose them," Salas said.

According to Salas, federal agencies have decided to dispose of the vessels because they have no significant value.

"They may have a scrap value of $20,000, but it's not cost-effective," Salas said. "We may need $50,000 to bring them to a scrap yard, which means that we won't get any profit at all."

The pre-sinking process, which involves the cleaning of the vessels' oil tanks among other things, has been completed.

"When you go through the process of sinking a vessel, there are steps that you must take to ensure human and environmental safety," Salas said.

He said the U.S. Marshal Service would have to seek clearance from the Environmental Protection Agency to make sure that environmental regulations are properly met.

"The sinking process involves a logistical program. The U.S. Coast Guard and the U.S. Attorney's Office are helping us in the review of the process to make sure that it is concluded safely," Salas said.

As soon as the U.S. Marshal gets EPA clearance, Salas said the vessels would be towed out into the high seas beyond the CNMI's 12-mile exclusive economic zone.

"I hope we can do this next week before the typhoon season comes in," Salas said.

Salas said most of the Chinese vessels that arrived at Guam port have been sunk.

"We may schedule the sinking of more vessels in Guam this week," Salas said.

For additional reports from The Saipan Tribune, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Newspapers/The Saipan Tribune.

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