11 January 2021
“Initial accounts had suggested the crew had been threatened by the suspects but when they were formally interviewed, members of the crew said they had not been endangered or threatened.”
London. UK. The case of the alleged ‘hijacking’ and threatening of the ship’s crew by seven Nigerian stowaways in UK Territorial Waters (TTWs) on 25 October 2020 has been dropped by the UK Crown Prosecution Service (CPS). The incident resulted in significant international media controversy after the UK Special Boat Service (SBS) conducted a night-time boarding to regain control of the Liberian flagged crude oil tanker Nave Andromeda (IMO: 9580405) owned by Folegandros Shipping Corporation and operated by Greece-based Navios Maritime Holdings.
The vessel left Lagos, Nigeria Lagos on 6 October 2020 for Southampton before passing through French and Spanish jurisdictions, both of which appear to have denied disembarking the seven stowaways.
On 25 October, and when in UK TTWs off the Isle of Wight, the Master allegedly issued a mayday requesting ‘immediate assistance’ which resulted in a maritime security operation involving personnel from the Royal Navy and the SBS lasting 9 minutes.
Subsequently, two of the suspects were charged on 24 December 2020 with the offence of conduct endangering ships under s.58 Merchant Shipping Act 1995.
On 8 January 2021 the UK Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) dropped the charges.
Joanne Jakymec, Chief Crown Prosecutor, issued a statement on the decision to discontinue the prosecution of two men for merchant shipping offences.
Despite media and welfare focus on the dangers to the crew and threats of violence allegedly initially reported against the seafarers, no actual evidence of such threats, intimidation or violence towards the crew were found to have occurred.
Notably, the CPS stated in reference to the evidence: “Initial accounts had suggested the crew had been threatened by the suspects but when they were formally interviewed, members of the crew said they had not been endangered or threatened.”
Offences considered by the CPS included:
- Hijacking. There was no evidence to indicate the stowaways had any intention to seize control of the vessel, so it was not possible to pursue a charge of attempting to exercise control of a ship.
- Threats to kill. Witness accounts did not indicate there had been threats to kill.
- Destroying or endangering the safety of ships. Initial accounts suggested that the vessel may have been endangered in line with the legislation for this offence. However, further witness statements combined with the expert maritime report revealed inconsistencies with this assertion. As the evidence could not show the ship or crew were endangered, the legal test for the offence of conduct endangering ships under s.58 Merchant Shipping Act 1995 was no longer met.
Following the CPS investigation, the incident has raised more questions as to the level of the owners, managers and legal representatives’ knowledge of the stowaways and their actual behaviours onboard, the alleged circumstances which led to the Master calling a mayday in UK TTWs which have not been evidenced as there being a threat to the crew as initially publicly reported, and the background to the seven men’s reasoning for leaving Nigeria by such a dangerous route.
Noting the threat to a vessel’s security and crew well-being in such incidents, the automatic demonising of stowaways as criminals intent on violent behaviours and being likened to pirates requires further addressing within the shipping and welfare community to ensure a balanced approach to the issue. The equivalent would be the likening of economic African migrants rescued in the Central Mediterranean as all being violent extremists and which plays into the hands of those with xenophobic intentions.
Image credit: Lloyds List.