Philip Nwosu, Lagos
The Nigerian Navy said it has impounded a passenger vessel with 406 illegal migrants allegedly travelling from Libreville, Gabon, to Lagos.
The Navy said there were indications that the vessel which brought the illegal migrants into the Lagos waterways might be on mission to dump all the passengers in Lagos.
The vessel, MV CHIMBA EXPRESS, is alleged to have left on Libreville on April 20, 2018, with some deportees of Togo, Benin, Niger, Mali and Nigerian nationalities.
The over 400 illegal immigrants of different nationalities are said not have valid travelling documents to enter into the country.
Addressing journalists on the interception of the migrants and arrest of the vessel, the Commander NNS BEECROFT, Commodore Okon Eyo, said that the vessel was scheduled to arrive Benin Republic on Sunday April 21, to disembark both regular and deportee passengers from Benin, Togo, Mali and Niger and thereafter proceed to Calabar to disembark Nigerian deportees.
Commodore Eyo said rather than arrive Benin, the vessel surfaced at the Lagos Bar on Wednesday April 25 with 406 passengers, including 18 deportees from Gabon who are Nigerians.
“The vessel has about 406 persons onboard from the Republics of Togo, Benin, Niger, Mali and Nigeria. The total number of Nigerians onboard and whether or not the vessel did berth in Benin is yet to be confirmed. Nonetheless, among the Nigerians are 18 reported deportees,” Eyo said.
The Commander revealed that the charterer of the vessel has been identified, with useful information to operatives of Nigerian Navy, adding that the force is working with NIMASA, DSS, Nigerian Immigration Service and the Nigerian Customs to ensure that the passengers are cleared.
“Additionally, we discovered that the international passports of the passengers were with the agent who claimed to be processing them. It was also obvious that there was no formal contact at governmental level for the delivery of the deportees or returnees. However, there is unconfirmed report that the Nigerian Embassy in Libreville was aware of the deportation,” said Eyo.
Most of the passengers, the Commander said, had been travelling without food and water.
He noted however that naval authorities were able to provide food for the famished to mitigate the suffering onboard.
“It is pertinent to add that the condition onboard as the vessel was brought into custodial detention was not conducive; the passengers were without food and water. As at the time of boarding the vessel, the passengers were seen to be famished and agitated. To mitigate the sufferings onboard, the base made arrangement where it purchased and took onboard food, water, mineral drinks and other provisions to the people.”
Commodore Eyo said the vessel MV CHIMBA EXPRESS, apart from bringing into Nigerian waters some illegal migrants, does not have an Automatic Identification System (AIS), explaining that “the vessel’s gross tonnage is about 677 tonnes, and international law mandates vessels of more than 350 tonnage to install AIS on board. Hence, MV CHIMBA EXPRESS was operating in violation of the law.”
He went on to reveal that: “MV CHIMBA EXPRESS’s visual identity was found to be mismatched with her registered name which was identified as Ramadan IV. Ship documents also show that the ship was flagged at Cameroun as against the electronic documentation of registration in Honduras. The action is contrary to the provision of the International Maritime Act.”