Bermuda's Xing Da

Text and Photography by WALT STEARNS



When a modern vessel, such as a large freighter, is sent to the bottom to become a new dive site, seldom does it warrant much more attention than, 'Oh, wow, a new wreck.' Unless, of course, that vessel has a rather checkered past, such as the Xing Da, recently sent to the bottom off Bermuda. Translated, Xing Da means 'lucky ride.' However, for this Canton registered freighter, luck was not forthcoming. It became the target of a sting operation to capture those trying to smuggle illegal immigrants into the United States.

Crewed by suspected members of the Chinese Mafia known as the Triad, the 221 foot ship, with its human cargo of 83 Chinese nationals (some as young as 14, none older than mid-30s), was meant to rendezvous at a pre-arranged place in the mid-Atlantic with a second, smaller ship. There they would make a transfer of the 'cargo' and continue on to America. Instead, on October 6, 1996, 140 miles off Bermuda, the ship was greeted by the U.S. Coast Guard cutters Reliance and Thetis, along with a regiment of U.S. Marines. After spending four months at sea (a voyage that traversed the Pacific and nearly the length of the Atlantic Ocean), the passengers' journey to America was over. They had paid $20,000 to $40,000 each to the Triad's smuggling ring to escape their homeland.

Both U.S. Immigration and Naturalization (INS), as well as the Coast Guard, knew about the Xing Da's activities even before she left port in the People's Republic of China in June 1996.

Smuggling was not new to the Xing Da. Going back as far as the Vietnam War, she smuggled everything from contraband to weapons for the North Vietnamese Army. According to the U.S. State Department, the Xing Da was part of a comprehensive illegal immigrant smuggling operation run by the Triad cartel. The Xing Da was the 11th Chinese vessel to be intercepted with this form of cargo in the course of five years. Following its seizure by the Coast Guard and INS, authorities found evidence the Xing Da was to be scuttled at sea. Whether this was to be with or without its passengers on board was unknown. Even if they had made it to America, these immigrants would most likely have ended up as indentured laborers in Chinese Mafia owned sweatshops.

Towed into Bermuda while still under guard on October 8, 1996, the Xing Da's passengers were off-loaded and transferred to the U.S. Marine base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, for processing and extradition back to their homeland. Those involved in the smuggling operation were arrested, facing 15 years imprisonment for illegally importing humans, if found guilty. Broken down beyond repair, the Xing Da was destined for a watery grave.

Catching wind of this, parties in the U.S. wanted her towed back for sinking off South Florida. The Bermuda government, however, thought otherwise. After quickly consulting local dive operators and environmental experts, it was determined her new home on the seafloor should be off Bermuda. Negotiations for possession were swift and timely, the ship was taken off the U.S. State Department's hands within 48 hours of her arrival.

On May 15, 1997, following several months of cleanup and preparation, the Xing Da was towed past the seaward edge of Bermuda's northwest facing barrier reef and sent to the bottom. Scuttled by opening her seacocks and cutting a few large openings in her hull, she settled on an even keel in 104 feet of water. Other than the removal of trash, fuel, waste and all her bulkhead doors, the Xing Da was left fully intact with all superstructure, deck machinery and booms as they were when she was captured.

Framed against the clear blue waters of the mid-Atlantic, which average 100 feet of visibility year-round, the Xing Da is a majestic sight. From the reef and sand bottom to the top of her wheelhouse is more than 60 feet. Even from her bow deck, resting at a depth of 71 feet, her forward mast towers high overhead, coming within 30 feet of the surface. Owing to her location outside the reef on the northwest side of the island, the best time to dive this wreck under favorable weather conditions is during the summer season, when the winds come from a more desirable direction.



BERMUDA DIVE OPERATORS

If you are interested in diving Bermuda's wrecks contact any of the dive operators listed below:

Blue Water Divers Co., Ltd.
P.O. Box SN 165
Southampton SN BX, Bermuda
(441) 234-1034; (441) 234-3561 (fax)
E-mail: bwdivers@ibl.bm
www.divebermuda.com

Fantasea Diving
Darrell's Wharf, 1 Harbour Road
Paget PG 01, Bermuda
(888) DO A DIVE
(441) 236-6339; (441) 236-8926 (fax)
E-mail: fantasea@ibl.bm
www.Bermuda-Watersports.com/fantasea

Nautilus Diving, Ltd.
P.O. Box HM237
Hamilton HM AX, Bermuda
(441) 238-2332
(441) 295-9485; (441) 234-5180 (fax)
E-mail: nautilus@ibl.bm
www.bermuda.bm/nautilus/

Scuba Look
Grotto Bay Beach Hotel
P.O. Box 658
Warwick WK BX, Bermuda
(441) 293-7319; (441) 295-2421 (fax)
E-mail: scubaluk@ibl.bm
www.diveguideint.com/p0078.htm

South Side Scuba
Sonesta Beach Resort
Southampton, Bermuda
(441) 238-1833; (441) 236-0394 (fax)
E-mail: southsid@ibl.bm
www.Bermuda-Watersports.com