MONROVIA – At least two Nigerians have been reportedly killed and 12 others rescued while aboard the Ophelia Panana ship off the shores of Gbanken Beach in Grand Kru Town.
The beach is about five kilometers from Grand Cess City.
Those killed on the ship were identified as Frank and Osas Velurobo.
According to a report, the ship which was heading to Japan with some Nigerian “stowaways” were spotted close to some coastal towns in the county.
The crew members on the ship, believed to be Chinese nationals, reportedly killed the two men and dumped their bodies in the ocean, while the others managed to swim on shore and were rescued with multiple wounds on their bodies during the night and morning hours of September 11 and 12, respectively.
Speaking in an interview with FrontPageAfrica via telephone, the Head of the Joint Security Task Force in Grand Kru, Chris Teah, disclosed that the ship left Lagos, Nigeria about five days ago and passed through the area when the incident happened.
“The ship was less than a mile from the shore. Six Nigerians swam and came on shore. They told us that they were 14 Nigerians and they were told that they were going to Japan. They believed that the crew on the ship could be Japanese or Chinese because they look alike,” he said.
He disclosed that the Nigerians were discovered in the ship after they were banging on the ship to request food from the crew.
They had spent five days without food and water while on the ship from Lagos.
He said: “They were discovered up the deep sea by the crew. They (crew) sprayed hot water on them and two of their colleagues were killed. Six persons swam to get on shore. According to the Nigerians, they got on the ship clandestinely, but when they left Nigeria some five days ago, they went out of food. They started hitting the yacht so that the crew can get the information that people were on board the ship.”
“The crew came and rescued them. They and the crew were like cool for like two days and the third day, they started maltreating them up to the time they hit the soil of Liberia.”
Teah disclosed that a Fanti boat from Grand Cess later went on the ocean to rescue the others who were thrown off the ship.
“Four more persons were rescued from the ship directly and the last two were thrown into the ocean by the guys (crew). The two that were reported killed, we didn’t see them and we don’t know whether they were killed on the Liberian soil or it happened at deep sea.”
Teah pointed out that the last pair of Nigerians thrown into the ocean were also rescued on brought to shore alive, bringing the total number of persons rescued to 12.
According to him, those rescued are currently in the custody of the Joint Security in the county.
“The Nigerians told me that things were not actually working their way in Nigeria and so, they were actually going stowaway.”
“There was no means of getting to the ship. We were on the beach and we could see the ship, not too far from us but there was no communication link.”
He noted that those who used the “machine canoes” to rescue the Nigerians did not get in touch with the crew aboard the merchant ship.
Teah stated that the situation promoted the ship to gradually vacate the Grand Kru side of the ocean until it was seen no more.
He disclosed that the incident is the first of its kind in the county.
Fear has gripped residents of the area following the reported killing and rescuing of the Nigerians.
“There was some fear, but when the security got there, the issue of fear came down. Everything is now quiet and our people are now going about in peace,” Teah disclosed.
Coastal belt not protected
Teah, however, used this medium to alarm over the porosity of Liberia’s coastal belts.
He reported that the coast guard of the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL) could not be immediately contacted to arrive on the scene up to the time the ship departed the Liberian coast.
“In terms of the protection of the coastal belt, I can tell you that from this situation, it is not protected on grounds that the ship came by 11 AM on Sunday. Up to today 10 AM, we couldn’t get coast guard from anywhere to move directly and stop the ship but rather ordinary fishermen were the ones moving in.”
Teah stressed that though the borders are being patrolled by the Joint Security with a vehicle provided by the government, the coastal belts remain vulnerable due to the lack of boats and others to enable security actors to travel on the ocean.
“Our men moved in last night and slept at the beach. But they could not move on to the water. I can tell you that the coastal link between Maryland and Sinoe is vulnerable. Up to present, there is no coast guard from the AFL here.”
Disappointed in Coast Guard
In a brief chat with FrontPageAfrica via telephone, Grand Kru County Superintendent Doris Ylatun disclosed that the county’s legislative caucus has been informed about the situation.
She disclosed that the caucus, through its Chairman Deputy House Speaker Fonati Koffa, has already informed authorities of the Ministry of National Defense.
She, however, expressed disappointment over the failure of the Coast Guard to move in promptly to arrest the situation.
“The 12 persons we have rescued are on their way to me in Barclayville. We have not gotten in touch with the Nigerian Embassy, but the Ministry of Defense said they were sending Coast Guards. Up to this time, Coast Guards have not reached until the ship left. I am disappointed. At least if the Coast Guard is in Maryland, it would be easy access for the southeast. Now the Coast Guard is leaving Monrovia. When they will leave Monrovia to Maryland from Maryland to Grand Kru?”
Superintendent Ylatun further pledged that the local authorities in the county will provide lounging, food and others for those who have been rescued until they are handed over to their embassy near Monrovia.
“My call to the local authorities is to join us so we can be able to find a way for these people to leave the county and get to the Nigerian embassy.”
For his part, the Chief of Staff of the AFL, Prince Johnson confirmed the incident, but disclosed a team has already been dispatched to Grand Kru.
“We received the information this morning and redirected our joint patrol operations with sea shepherd in the suspected area. As of this time, we are awaiting updates from our Joint Patrol team. The Joint Security in Grand Kru has been updating us on the activities.”
He, however, rejected claims that the coastal belts have been left unattended by the Coast Guard.
For the period under review, he reported that the Liberian Coast Guard has accomplished a lot, with support from Maritime and Sea Shepherd including, the arrest F/VBao Lucky- (19 Apr 2022), F/VGlobal 8 (10 Apr 2022), F/V Guoji 828 ( 14 Apr 2022), and F/V Guoji 832 (14 Apr 2022) for some common violations.
He named the violations as: Fishery Regulations (Registration issues, licenses), Maritime Regulations (safety of the vessels and crew), faulty fire extinguishers, expired life rafts, overcrowdedness of crew, immigration issues (Expired passports and seamen books), inadequate Safety equipment and other violations.