On June 6, 1993, at around 2 a.m., the Golden Venture — a ship bearing 286 illegal immigrants from China (mostly from the province of Fujian) along with 13 crew members — ran aground on Rockaway Beach in Queens, New York after a mutiny by the smugglers. The ship had set sail from Thailand, stopped in Kenya and circled the Cape of Good Hope en route. In their attempts to flee the stranded ship and get to shore in the United States, ten people drowned.
The survivors were taken into custody by the Immigration and Naturalization Service and were held in prisons throughout the U.S. while applying for political asylum. While roughly ten per cent were granted asylum, and minors were released, 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.
This case was an early test of the system of detaining asylum-seekers in prisons, a practice which has continued in the U.S., Australia and Great Britain. It was also notable because some detainees created more than ten thousand folk art sculptures now known as 3d origami from folded paper, papier-mâché, and recycled materials while in York County Prison; these were later exhibited throughout the U.S.
The mastermind behind the Golden Venture was a Chinese gangster leader named Ah Kay. Ah Kay was a cold-blooded gangster who had killed and tortured numerous people throughout his career. Ah Kay was arrested in Hong Kong and was sent to the U.S. for trial. Because he cooperated with the U.S. government, he received a very light sentence. The U.S. even granted him citizenship and Ah Kay was released from jail from a light sentence. On the other hand, on June 22, 2005 Cheng Chui Ping (known within some communities as "Sister Ping" or "Big Sister Ping") was convicted for trafficking illegal immigrants and money laundering in the case. 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. The judge pointed out the inhumane travel conditions forced on the immigrants and her use of gangsters to collect debts and ransoms in justifying the sentence. Many Chinese in the New York community thought sister Ping did not get a fair trial. In addition, they believe the U.S. government should not have dealt with the "devil" (Ah Kay), and granted him a freedom.
The ship itself was later deliberately sunk off the coast of Florida by the U.S. government.