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Detained Ship Crew Allege Threat To Life

Posted by BY EMMA EKE on 2004/08/01 | Views: 2555 |

Detained Ship Crew Allege Threat To Life

CREW members of a commercial ship, MT BRAHM, allegedly detained by the police, have complained that their holders are threatening their lives.

*Police Say It Is Not True

CREW members of a commercial ship, MT BRAHM, allegedly detained by the police, have complained that their holders are threatening their lives.

They accused the police of taking sides in the matter, by threat of arms and extortion.

Though the Force Headquarters' Police Public Relations Officer, Mr. Chris Olakpe, declined to comment on the issue "because it is still in court," a senior police officer in the Legal Department of the Force denied the allegations.

He said: "Though the ship had actually stayed for some time on the high sea, the police have no interest in the matter other than ensuring that lives and property in it are protected, since it is impounded within the country's territorial waters."

The vessel is said to be held up at about 13.5 nautical miles off the Nigerian waters, following a complaint by a Nigerian businessman. He had alleged he was short-changed in the leasing of the dry-cargo vessel before it embarked on a business trip from Nigeria to Europe.

In a Save-Our-Soul (SOS) statement to the government and the public, the crew members had drawn attention to what they termed "outrageous act" by the police, which they claimed "runs against Nigerian and international laws."

They noted that even when the issues involved in the case had twice been settled by the courts, the "businessman behind our ordeal is head (sic) bent in running contrary to the judgments."

The crew members stated that the courts had twice ordered that they and the vessel should be released, "but the police ignored those orders."

"Not only have they (the crew) been deprived of their liberty, but they are subjected daily by bullying and intimidation by the police, who use their firearms to scare the crew," they alleged.

They cited an ugly incident on March 20, when some lives would have been lost when one of the policemen, occupying the vessel "fired shots above their (crew's) heads."

But the police officer that spoke to The Guardian stressed that the ship was being detained because "there is an unresolved question of its ownership and the type of cargo it is carrying."

This, he said, had been in contention in the past two years, between a known Nigerian shipping line and a foreign firm.

The officer disclosed that the crux of the matter was the allegation that the vessel was put into commercial use when the two contending parties were yet to resolve their differences, which attracted the police attention.

The officer said it was impossible for the police to extort money from the crew members, "given the fact that where the ship is, both the crew and the policemen watching over the vessel received their supplies via link-up boat, as allowed in the maritime law."

But a concerned shipping expert, Mr. Nelson Akinfunwa has advised that a better solution be found to the situation so as not to create threat to life of crew members of the ship who are mere employees of the owners.

Akinfunwa, a consultant with a maritime firm, estimated that for a cargo ship to be grounded for a 19-month period, not less than N200 million would be spent in "running it to remain sea worthy anytime."

He stated that "without prejudice to who is right or wrong, "arrangement should have been made to see to the comfort of the crew.

However, The Guardian learnt that to ensure a temporary relief for the detained crew, the management of the ship had negotiated "occasional hostage trading," with the law enforcement officers guarding the ship.

"The arrangement is such that one of the crew is allowed off in exchange for another one. This has been going on in the past 19 months that the seizure of the ship had lasted," a source disclosed.

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