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By Jan TenBruggencate

HONOLULU, Hawai‘i (August 31, 1999 – Honolulu Advertiser)---The survivors of a ship that drifted for a month in the North Pacific are refugees a form the People’s Republic of China, an official of the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service said yesterday.

More than 75 passengers and crew of a run-down former cargo ship, the Yu Xing, were rescued last week when a Coast Guard cutter towed them to Midway. Federal public health officials screened the undernourished, dehydrated passengers, and had found no one suffering serious health problems as of yesterday.

They are being housed in a gym on Midway, a former Navy base that is now a Fish and Wildlife Service refuge about 1,200 miles northwest of Oahu.

Don Mueller, a spokesman for the INS, said the people are likely "economic refugees" looking for a better life in the West.

"Most of these folks either destroy documents en route or they don’t bring documents with them," he said.

Immigration officers will interview the Midway boat people to determine their status. If they face no danger of retribution, they will likely be sent back to their homeland, Mueller said.

He said the Yu Xing is the seventh ship full of Chinese refugees recovered in the Pacific in the past five months. The passengers and crew of the six previous ships were flown back to China, he said.

The 140-foot Yu Xing is under tow to Honolulu Harbor. The vessel broke down after its propeller shaft failed, said Coast Guard spokesman Dave Santos.

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