The Marine Firefighting Institute

Newsletter # 4

Please do not reprint in any form without the permission of the author.

Cruise Special -Travel to the United States -$50,000 per person.

- No sanitary facilities - - No heat or A/C & Bring your own food.

You will be locked in your 40 x 10 x 8 room for 12 to 20 days with

your own human waste. And possibly a rotting corpse!


By Tom Guldner

Sound appealing? This is the type of trip many Chinese immigrants are booking right now. They aren't calling their travel agent. They must contact those involved in the smuggling of human cargo.

Stowaways aboard ship are not a new occurrence. People have tried to sneak aboard since the first ship sailed. In the past, the area of choice aboard ships has been in one of the holds. Hidden between the many rows and layers of commercial goods, many stowaways were able to travel undetected. However, shifting cargos, extreme temperatures, flooded holds, and irate crew members have accounted for the deaths of countless of the wretched individuals. We, in the Fire service have had the grizzly task of finding stowaways who have died in the ship's hold during a fire. They succumbed to either the smoke and heat or the CO2 flooding which displaced their needed oxygen.

The most recent trend in sneaking these desperate individuals past our immigration officers is to pack them into shipping containers on international Container ships. One recent container discovered at a Seattle Washington port held 3 dead bodies in addition to the 15 other semi-living occupants who had been locked up together with the bodies of their traveling companions for 7 days. The reason that the cost is $50,000 is because the conditions in the containers are sometimes better than they were in the holds of some other ships.

Most container ships carry in excess of 1,000 containers and our Immigration authorities are unable to check each one. The container of choice seems to be the "Rag Top" (Fig.1), which is a container with a tarp covering its top. However, they can be found in any type of container. As this type of smuggling has proven effective we can expect that there will be many more containers with human cargo. Many of these human cargo carriers have been modified to provide some amenities. The container mentioned above had several automobile batteries hooked up to a string of lights not unlike those found as temporary lighting at construction sights..

One standard method of extinguishing a fire in a container aboard a ship is by introducing CO2 through the wall of the container. The CO2 will displace the oxygen and cease the combustion process. Unfortunately, it will also cease the lives of any poor souls inside. Another extinguishment method is total flooding of the container with water. Unfortunately for the illegal immigrant, his expectation for survival with this method will be similar to the CO2.

We in the fire service must be aware of this trend. Containers aboard ship, especially ships from China and "third world countries", must be suspect. If possible, we must attempt to open these containers for extinguishment. This is not always possible due to the manner in which the containers are so closely packed. Be aware that there may also be illegal immigrant stowaways in the holds of some freighters.(Fig.2)

These people are desperate in their desire not to be caught so they will secrete themselves in areas where the crew seldom operate. Unfortunately, we may not become aware of this until after the fire operation is concluded.

Fig. 1...............Fig. 2

Stay Safe


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Previous Newsletters:

Newsletter # 1 "Marine Firefighting Training, Who needs it!"

Newsletter # 2 "Shipboard Basics"

Newsletter # 3 "Straight Stream Vs Fog Stream