By; RAYMOND TEDUNJAYE, Lagos
The operatives of the Nigerian Navy have intercepted a vessel with 406 passengers on board which illegal entered the country with some deportees, amongst them Nigerians and nationals of other countries.
Other nationalities on board the vessel, named MV CHIMBA EXPRESS, intercepted and detained in Lagos included that of Togo, Benin, Malian and Niger.
The deportees, whose country of departure was yet to be ascertained at the time of filing the report, were said to be without passports of countries of origin.
The Commander, Nigerian Navy Ship (NNS) BEECROFT, Commodore Okon Eyo while confirming the report, said that the ship which had operated variously under different names, actually departed Libreville, Gabon, on April 20, before being intercepted in Lagos waters last Wednesday.
” The vessel departed Gabon laden with cargo, regular and deportee passengers of Togo, Benin, Nigeria, Niger and Malian nationalities.
The total number of Nigerians on-board will be determined shortly and among the Nigerians are 18 deported returnees,” he said.
Eyo said the charterer of the vessel, identified as Mubashiu Lawal from Republic of Benin, made a yet to be verified claim that they made contact with the Nigerian port control to get permission to come in.
“This was yet to be granted as at the time of their arrest and it was also gathered that the international passports of the passengers were with the agents who claimed to be processing them.
It was also obvious that there was no formal contact at governmental levels for the delivery of the deportees or returnees,” he said, highlighting the fear that the Nigerian deported returnees would probably been abandoned at a convenient place, while the vessel sails away, free.
Subsequently, the Navy is inviting other Government agencies, particularly the Nigerian Immigration Service, Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), Nigeria Customs Service amongst others, to help unravel the actual mission of the Chimba!
Eyo said that apart from the issue of unauthorised entry which was the subject of investigation, the vessel was also in breach of absence of an active Automatic Identification System (AIS).
“MV CHIMBA EXPRESS’s gross tonnage is about 677 tonnes. The international law mandates vessel of more than 350 tonnages to install AIS on-board, which shows it was operating in violation of the law.
“MV CHIMBA EXPRESS visual identity was also found to be mismatched with its registered name which was identified as RAMADAN IV.
“The ship document also shows that the ship was flagged at Cameroon as against the electronic documentation of registration in HONDURAS, which is contrary to the provision of the International Maritime Act,” he said.
Eyo said that the vessel’s agenda was to dump the passengers in Nigeria, adding that it would have followed the original passage plan.
He also said that relevant agencies were working together to unravel and deal with the issues.
“To this end, the relevant agencies – Nigerian Navy, NIMASA, Immigration, Customs and DSS – will be working together to unravel the motives behind the whole affair as well as deal with other associated issues,” he said.