Federal authorities in New Orleans have arrested a Chinese seaman accused of locking a customs inspector inside a cooler after she found some contaminated fruit aboard an arriving vessel.
Xinguo Chen, a cook aboard the Genco Mare, was booked with one count of assaulting a federal officer during the routine inspection late last month. Deemed a flight risk, he was ordered detained without bond. He waived his right to a preliminary hearing last week.
The incident happened after a U.S. Customs and Border Protection inspector walked into the ship’s cooler to examine a box of mangos, one of which “had a known invasive insect protruding from the fruit,” according to a criminal complaint filed in U.S. District Court in New Orleans.
Chen hovered over the inspector “in a dominating and invasive manner” and snatched the fruit from her as she was about to place it in an evidence bag, the complaint says. He then shoved the inspector into some shelving, the complaint says, and slammed the door of the cooler shut, trapping her inside.
The inspector had boarded the ship with a colleague but couldn’t contact him because she lost cellphone reception inside the darkened cooler, which was locked from the outside and chilled to 41 degrees.
She was trapped inside the cooler for about 10 minutes, the complaint says, until Chen turned on the light and opened the door, prompting the inspector to brandish a pocket knife — the only weapon she had on her — in self-defense.
Chen approached the inspector and tried to give her the mango, which, according to the complaint, “now appeared to have been cleaned and free of insects.”
“Fearing for her safety, (the inspector) continually and repeatedly ordered Chen to get back,” the complaint says. “Chen continued to encroach into her personal space, coming within a few inches of her face.”
The inspector managed to escape the cooler at some point after Chen returned with the ship’s chief officer, the complaint says. The captain of the ship later reprimanded Chen and apologized to the inspector.
Editor’s note: This story was changed Sept. 17 to correct the name of the agency that employs the federal inspector.
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