Sunday, December 25, 2005

Stowaways Rescued From Death On Container Ship

Ten Nigerian stowaways suffering from severe hypothermia were found on a container ship near Antwerp port. The stowaways were taken from the ship at the Kallo lock (Beveren-Waas) after their discovery by a tugboat crew and workers at the lock. Lightly dressed and suffering from severe hypothermia, the illegal immigrants had made the crossing from Lagos in Nigeria with barely any food and freshwater.
In the hours before their rescue, the stowaways had started drinking the salty Schelde River water just to survive. They were found in the ship's rudder room, barely protected from the December cold. "They were at the end of their strength and would not have made it to land," harbour pilot Frank De Cort said. The refugees were taken to the lock's medical post, where they said in broken English that two companions were missing. Some said they jumped overboard, whiled others said they were killed and then thrown overboard. Officially, they are listed as missing, newspaper 'De Standaard' reported. In further questioning, the illegal immigrants have claimed the captain of the vessel had allowed them on board. The captain has denied the allegations and is assisting investigations being carried out by the Dendermonde public prosecution office. A prosecution spokesman said the stowaways had quickly gone through their food and were drinking sea water to survive. However, there is talk that there was a latch that served as an opening into the rudder room and the prosecution office is investigating. The ship will remain for several days at the habour and the stowaways will probably be repatriated back to Nigeria. If the death of the two missing stowaway proves to a crime that occurred in Belgian waters, the prosecution office will conduct inquiries. The ship, Sint-Elmo, sails under the Maltese flag for the Naples-based shipping company Grimaldi. It set sail originated from Lagos in Nigeria and was en route to Livorno (Italy). Second-hand cars were to be loaded onto the ship at Antwerp. Most of the cars were destined for Africa. A second load of cars was also to be loaded onto the ship in Italy. The journey from Lagos to Antwerp takes nine days and the ship departed from Lagos on 9 December. Between 200 and 300 stowaways make it to Antwerp each year. They are mostly Africans and then predominantly Liberians and Nigerians. A captain who finds stowaways on board is bound by international law to supply them with basic care. Neither the Captain nor the Crew of a container ship Sint-Elmo were aware the stowaways were onboard, the Dendermonde public prosecution office said.

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