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Golden Venture

Coordinates: 26°19′16.080″N 80°3′32.340″W / 26.32113333°N 80.05898333°W / 26.32113333; -80.05898333
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
NameGolden Venture
FateRenamed as United Caribbean after 1993
NameUnited Caribbean
IdentificationIMO number7653698[2]
FateSunk as an artificial reef by Palm Beach County on 22 August 2000[3]
General characteristics
TypeCargo ship
Length44.8 m (147 ft)[1]
Installed powerSingle diesel engine[1]
PropulsionSingle shaft, single screw[1]

Golden Venture was a 147-foot-long (45 m) cargo ship that smuggled 286 undocumented immigrants from China (mostly Fuzhou people from Fujian province) along with 13 crew members that ran aground on the beach at Fort Tilden on the Rockaway peninsula of Queens, New York on June 6, 1993, at around 2 a.m. The ship had sailed from Bangkok, Thailand, stopped in Kenya and rounded the Cape of Good Hope, then headed northwest across the Atlantic Ocean to New York City on its four-month voyage. Ten people drowned in their attempts to flee the ship that had run aground 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 after U.S. Representative William Goodling entreated President Bill Clinton; 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 Clinton on February 27, 1997, after four years in prison.[4]

This case was an early test of the system of detaining asylum-seekers in prisons, a practice that continues in the U.S., Australia, and the 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. and sold to offset legal costs.[5]

The journey[edit]

The immigrants paid $40,000 on average in whole or in part before departing China on foot through Myanmar then to Bangkok where they were kept in a staging house for two months. In February 1993, the ship departed, and on its way stopped by Mombasa, Kenya to pick up passengers left stranded by a previous boat that had run aground there. Rounding the Cape of Good Hope, the ship was caught in a hurricane but survived, and headed toward Boston.[4]

The immigrants held in the cramped hold of the freighter were forced to live on a diet of rice, peanuts, dirty water, and spoiled food as it sailed on its 4-month voyage to New York City.[6] There were beatings by the gang enforcers on board and several incidents of rape.[4]

The ship was supposed to rendezvous with smaller vessels before landing to help move some of the immigrants and lessen the load. However, this didn't happen due to the gang in charge being arrested around that time. The smugglers on board directed the ship to New York City. Golden Venture 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.[7] Ten people drowned in the city early morning water in their attempts to flee the stranded ship and in their excitement[4] get to shore in the United States.

The survivors, 262 men, 24 women, and 14 children, were taken into custody by the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS)--six escaped[4]—and were held in various prisons throughout the U.S. while they applied for the right of asylum. Roughly 10 percent were granted asylum after Pennsylvania congressman William Goodling entreated President Bill Clinton; 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, 119 in York, Pennsylvania in a medium security prison. It was argued that this tactic was a method of isolating the prisoners from lawyers and rights groups. A number of individuals in York volunteered their time as legal aid, and in the last years there was a weekly vigil held outside the prison.[4]

Criminal leaders[edit]

Lee Peng Fei, also known as Lee Hsiao Kuang and Char Lee was described at his trial as the 'mastermind' behind Golden Venture. He had not been on board the ship but had ordered the grounding from his Chinatown apartment. The Taiwanese citizen was arrested in Thailand and later sentenced to 20 years in prison.[8]

One of those behind Golden Venture was a Chinese gang leader named Guo Liang Chi, known mainly by his street name of Ah Kay.[9] He was the leader of the Fuk Ching gang, which up to early 1993, had been the most powerful Asian gang in New York City.[10] A Chinese gangster who smuggled people to other countries, or a snakehead, he was also a cold-blooded gangster who tortured and killed numerous people throughout his career.[11][page needed] Kay was arrested in Hong Kong and eventually extradited to the U.S. Federal investigators acknowledged that they were less interested in prosecuting Guo than in hearing what he had to say. After he cooperated with the US 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.

By contrast, 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 from this case. Ah Kay testified against her during her May–June 2005 trial. Cheng became a snakehead, primarily as an investor, charging up to US$40,000 per person for the voyage from Asia to New York City in the suffocating hold of the rogue vessel. Although Cheng provided cash to buy the aging vessel in Thailand, trial evidence showed that she did not view Golden Venture's voyage as an important business deal,[12] 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. Judge Reena Raggi pointed out the inhumane travel conditions forced on the immigrants and her use of gangsters to collect debts and ransoms in justifying the sentence.[13]


Renamed 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 August 22, 2000 as an artificial reef in 70 feet of water about one mile off the south coast of Florida near Boca Raton Inlet.[3] The ship, which had been built in 1969, became part of the Palm Beach Artificial Reef Program.[14] This wreck is a scuba diving destination and has now broken into three pieces, courtesy of the 2004 hurricanes Frances and Jeanne.[15]

In Media[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d Tony, Allen. "MV United Caribbean (+2000)". wrecksite.eu. Retrieved 9 September 2015.
  2. ^ a b c "Vessel details for: UNITED CARIBBEAN (General Cargo) - IMO 7653698, MMSI -7653698, Call Sign Registered in | AIS Marine Traffic". MarineTraffic. Retrieved 9 September 2015.
  3. ^ a b Meadows, Karin. Golden Venture sinks to form artificial reef. Sarasota Herald Tribune (AP) - August 23, 2000. p. 5B
  4. ^ a b c d e f Golden Venture, dir. Peter Cohn, Hillcrest Films, 2006
  5. ^ "Paper Eagles: Art of the Golden Venture". Huffington Post. 25 December 2017. Retrieved 25 December 2018.
  6. ^ O'SHAUGHNESSY, PATRICE. "The Golden Venture Tragedy: From hell at sea to the American Dream - NY Daily News". nydailynews.com. Retrieved 2018-07-09.
  7. ^ Faison, Seth. 12 Indicted on Charges of Smuggling Aliens. The New York Times – June 22, 1993
  8. ^ "Mastermind of Golden Venture Smuggling Ship Gets 20 Years". The New York Times. December 2, 1998. Retrieved August 20, 2018.
  9. ^ Faison, Seth. Chinatown Gang Leader to Be Returned to U.S. The New York Times – April 12, 1994
  10. ^ Faison, Seth. 18 Are Indicted In Smuggling Of Immigrants. The New York Times – September 30, 1993
  11. ^ Keefe, Patrick Radden. The Snakehead: An Epic Tale of the Chinatown Underworld and the American Dream (New York: Doubleday, 2009)
  12. ^ Preston, Julia. Prosecutors Say Defendant in Immigrant Smuggling Case Ran an Underground Empire. The New York Times – May 23, 2005
  13. ^ Keefe, Patrick Radden. "The Snakehead: The Criminal Odyssey of Chinatown's Sister Ping". The New Yorker. April 24, 2006
  14. ^ Wrecks - Fort Lauderdale, FL Archived 2014-02-22 at the Wayback Machine. Scuba Network
  15. ^ South Florida & Boca Raton diving wrecks Archived 2016-03-04 at the Wayback Machine. Sunstar Aquatic Services
  16. ^ "Golden Venture immigration documentary".
  17. ^ "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit: Debt (S6.E2)". IMDb.com (www.imdb.com). IMDb.com, Inc. 28 September 2004. Retrieved 14 May 2022.

External links[edit]

26°19′16.080″N 80°3′32.340″W / 26.32113333°N 80.05898333°W / 26.32113333; -80.05898333