– Navy accused of connivance
Lagos — Some Nigerian seafarers whose vessel ‘MT Alexzandra J’ anchored at the Lagos anchorage are protesting their continued abandonment on the vessels eight months after its detention by the Nigerian Navy.
It was gathered that though about 19 of them are presently on-board many of them have been evacuated following a near-death condition of their health.
Despite being given a clean bill, the Nigerian Navy has continued to detain the vessel allegedly, on the order of the charterer, Mr. Godswill Gageche.
Speaking on the conditions of the crew onboard the vessel, Mr. Andrew Asaboro, 3rd Officer, said that the crew currently has no food, no water and medications on board, a development that has put them in a very dangerous situation.
Asaboro disclosed that the Vessel was arrested on the 11th of September last at Cotonou anchorage and the charterer of the vessel has refused to let them leave the vessel as salaries have also not been paid for months.
He explained that while the Navy changes its officer on duty every two weeks, the crew were never allowed out of the vessel.
He said: “On the 11th of September, the vessel was arrested at Cotonou anchorage, they departed Lagos anchorage on the 11th of September for machinery trial. So, we had an engine breakdown off-shore Lome.
“When the vessel broke-down, we could not anchor, we had to look for a safer place to anchor due to the depth of the ocean, so we began to drift until we drifted close to Cotonou anchorage.
“Not long after we drop anchor that we saw a Navy vessel approaching and tried to find what the problem was, and the captain of the vessel tried to explain our situation to the Navy.
“While we anchored at off-shore Cotonou, our engineers were working on the engines and the engines started working and the Navy ship ‘NNS Kano’ escorted us to Lagos anchorage.
“On getting to Lagos, one Lieutenant Commander I. I. Adamu led a team of Naval officer to board the vessel to muster the crew.
“After checking the papers of the cargo onboard the vessel, they saw that the papers were genuine. At this point they requested for Naval approval for machinery trial and for this reason, the vessel will remain in detention.
“This was the beginning of our problem as the charterer was not able to provide food and fresh water as the food he provided did not take the crew one week.
“Since the vessel was arrested by the Nigerian navy on the 11th of September 2022 the situation onboard this vessel has deteriorated, we literally have to beg before food is being provided by the charterer.
“Since the beginning of this year he has not provided any food stuff aside the first one he brough when the vessel was arrested and the food barely lasted two weeks.
“For the past four weeks there have not been food onboard the vessel neither has there been drinking water or fresh water onboard, I can say literally at the moment there is nothing onboard we have to have our bath with salt water which some of the crew members have reacted to.
“The last time it was the owner of the vessel that had to intervene to bring food and water for us which lasted more than a month, the charterer brought pure water onboard he gave each crew 8 pieces of pure water, I literally felt bad and ask the cadet to return mine to the galley giving one person 8 pieces of pure water for months. I have to state here this is the height of dehumanization and slavery we face onboard at the moment.
“We have a total of 19 crew onboard and the charterer would provide the basic needs of his brother alone not bothering about how other are faring.
“I have severe tooth ache I have reported the issue severally but haven’t been allowed to go home because the charterer has refused to call the navy so I would be disembarked. I have been here since 18th of August, I have not seen my family since then and the worst among all this is the fact I have not been paid by the charterer since I boarded, it was the vessel owner that paid me two months by December of last year so we can have something to send back home.”
According to the fourth Engineer Innocent Nwani, the situation right now was very pathetic as their long stay on board the vessel has denied them the opportunity to see their families and send monies to them because salaries were also not paid.
Nwani said he has been on board the vessel since March 2022.
Another crew member, Engine Fitter Lucky Bebedondha, has also been on board for more than one year. On two occasions he took ill and could not take medications because none was provided.
Meanwhile, the Navy has denied detaining the vessel.
The crew alleged that the Charterer is conniving with Navy to illegally keep the crew on board the vessel for reasons they cannot explain.
Confirming the pathetic development, the Gageche, however, disputed some of the claims of the crew members but confirmed that at a point he could no longer afford food after a few months.
Gageche explained that the technical breakdown was what generated the whole issue adding that he did what he could within his capacity to make life bearable for the crew.
He explained that the Navy had to approach the vessel because the Automated Identification System, AIS, was turned off for some hours thinking that either the vessel was under attack or was doing illegal business.
On the issue of non-provision of food, Gageche said that the minimum he spends on food supply to the crew was N6million adding that they are well taken care of.
He said: “I was a sailor also, you see most of these our local crews here are not exposed to international voyages, I sailed to Europe for some time before I signed off, so when you keep them somewhere for three months, they start shouting.
“For salary, we have not paid them because since the time of arrest, the ship has not been trading. I have gotten legal permission to sell the product on board and once we sell, we will settle everybody.”
Meanwhile, one of the owners of the vessel, Mr. Umanta Umanta, said that they had a bareboat charter agreement with Mr. Gageche’s company, but that agreement has been breached following the current development.
Umanta said that even after the vessel was arrested, the charterer refused to inform them adding “it was the Economic and Financial Crime Commission, EFCC, that informed us of the arrest of the ship”.
He also accused the charterer of trading with the vessel without declaring the proceeds of the voyage it made before her arrest.
Speaking on the development Director of Naval information, Commodore Kayode Ayo-Vaughan disclosed that he was aware of the arrest of the vessel.
He also said that Naval officers were on board the vessel to supervise crew change when the sailors raised alarm of forceful ejection from the vessel.
In his reaction, Mr. Amba Ntui, an official of the labour department of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency, NIMASA, said that the matter was only reported to the agency in April this year.
Ntui also said that the agency has commenced its own investigation to ascertain the claims of the crew men.
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