Liberia: Administrative Lapses, Avoidable Missteps Led to the Sinking of Niko Invanka


Monrovia – On October 4, 2017, the owner’s operators of the Niko Ivanka wrote authorities of the Liberia Maritime Authority, the body responsible for regulating all foreign and domestic waterborne commerce, enforce maritime treaties, including Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS); Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL) as well as the Standards for Training, requesting a license to operate the vessel between the ports of Monrovia and the South-eastern ports via the Junk River in Marshall City.

What happened afterward would set in motion a horrifying series of administrative lapses that led to the drowning of the vessel on Sunday, July 18, 2021.

Five days after the vessel operators made the request to the LiMA, authorities replied to the owners and operators’ letter of October 4, 2017 requesting particulars of the vessel, recent survey report and its location for inspection purposes. At the same time, the company was informed that it needed the necessary approvals prior to fabricating or constructing any maritime-related structure within Liberia’s maritime domain.

On December 7, 2017, the owners and operators wrote the Maritime Administration to conduct a pre-registration safety inspection on the constructed vessel stating therein the vessel would trade at ports in Ivory Coast, Sierra Leone, Guinea and Ghana.

Safety Inspection Revealed Problems With Vessel

This was followed by December 11, 2017 in which the Maritime Administration wrote restating its earlier position for the owners and operators to submit all requested documentation to it on or before December 19, 2017.

A month later, on January 17, 2018, communications in possession of FrontPageAfrica suggests that an initial pre-registration safety inspection was conducted. The inspection revealed several deficiencies. However, the vessel was recommended to be permitted to sail from the Junk River along Marshall to sail to the Freeport of Monrovia due to low water tide condition to facilitate the completion of the inspection.  

Additionally, on January 19, 2018, the owners and operators wrote requesting permission to relocate the vessel from Marshall City to the Freeport of Monrovia. All this amid the fact that the vessel sailed from Marshall City without any authorization from the Maritime Administration.

On January 30, 2018, the owners and operators of the vessel, requested the inspection of the vessel at the Freeport of Monrovia after it sailed from Marshall without authorization. At the time, the Deputy Commissioner ordered a detailed inspection of the vessel since it was a newly built vessel.

A day later, January 31, 2018, the Maritime Administration carried out a follow-up inspection on the vessel.

That inspection established that most of the deficiencies noted in the January 17, 2018 report were rectified. Hence, a recommendation for its provisional registration with the proviso to operate only in Liberian waters and on February 26, 2018, a provisional Certificate issued for the vessel to operate.

Nearly a year later, on April 22, 2019, the vessel was cited for being in violation of a detention order issued by the inspectorate department.

Six days later, on April 28, 2021, the vessel was detained for operating with expired certificates. That detention notice served on the National Port Authority, Liberian National Coast Guard, the Management of the vessel, with all three bodies notified that the vessel was not fit to go to sea.

Lots of Blame Floating Around

In the wake of last Sunday’s tragedy, the three agencies served detention notice – the Liberian National Coast Guard, the National Port Authority and the vessel operators appear to be shying away from responsibility as an antsy public demand answers.

On Monday, Mr. Bill Twehway, Managing Director of the National Port Authority, while describes sinking vessel saga as tragedy at a news conference, assured accountability and transparency in the ongoing investigation but fell short of providing reasons why the vessel was allowed to go to sea.

Mr. Twehway, however, urged the public to remain calm as the focus of the National Search and Rescue Coordination is to ensure that those who are missing are first recovered before investigation regarding circumstances leading to the sinking of the vessel can be prioritized.

The LiMA through its Commissioner, Lenn Eugene Nagbe, is vowing to get to the bottom of the sinking of the vessel, declaring Monday that the pending investigation will help unearth how did the “detention order” on the sinking vessel lifted and by whom.

Said Nagbe: “The Liberia Maritime Authority wishes to state that the subject vessel was detained and not allowed to sail. Also, the vessel was at no time authorized or permitted to carry passengers or operate as a passenger’s vessel. The Maritime Authority and all of the relevant entities, including the Ministry of Justice, are commissioning an investigation to how a vessel that was detained because of its failure to meet the necessary requirements managed to get on the sea with passengers and cargo. We issued a letter and said don’t move; how did it move? We will determine that very shortly”.

The vessel which, belongs to HYLALEA INC. was constructed in Marshall, Margibi County in the period of four months and commissioned by Vice President Jewel Howard Taylor in 2018.

It was carrying about 21 passengers, including nine workers of the West African Examination Council (WAEC) when it was reported distressed.

So far, 16 persons are feared dead and 12 others rescued following the criminal lifting of a “detention order” placed on the sailing of the locally made and registered vessel NIKO IVANKA, which has sunk on the waters in Maryland County.

Among those rescued are about 10 men, one woman. Nine of them including seven crewmen are Liberians, one Chinese, and one Syrian. Six were rescued on Saturday, July 17, while the remaining was rescued on Sunday, July 18.

According to LiMA, those rescued offshore were immediately taken to the John F. Kennedy Memorial Medical Hospital for examination. They were, accordingly, treated, discharged and have been reunited with their families.