Report by The Rev. J. D. van Schalkwyk and Fr. T. H. Thembi
CRC Response Cluster.
Exercise ‘MT Maro’.
Acting on a report requesting assistance from vessel MT MARO’ Chief Engineer’s daughter, Sailors’ Society Project Director, MPHRP UK, the Nigerian Seafarers Welfare Board, ITF Nigeria and MPHRP London and INDIA agreed that the Crisis Response Centre send a Response Cluster of 2 or 3 Port Chaplains to render humanitarian/welfare counselling and support to 11 imprisoned seafarers in Nigeria.
On a routine voyage from Ghana to Cameroon ‘MT’ Maro’s engine became unserviceable and they made for the port of Bras in Nigeria where they anchored.
Apparently Bras had insufficient draft and it was feared that she would run aground and unconfirmed reports say she actually did.
The Captain, hoping that the Nigerian Navy would assist them , found instead the Navy detaining, searching and interrogating them. On the 22nd July 2014, the Captain plus 2 of the crew were taken to a ‘camp’ where (Rs200 Crores) was allegedly demanded which the Captain and company didn’t pay.
The Navy arrested the (11) Indian crew members on 25th July 2014 and in an altercation 2 crew members had their legs fractured before being handed over to the Economic Financial Crime Commission (EFCC). The EFCC also demanded a payment and filed charges. Though taken to hospital, they were imprisoned in YENAGOA before they could be treated. Chief Engineer Das is a diabetic on medication.
Since incarceration, there have been no responses from the shipping agent or company despite numerous attempts by family members to contact them in Mumbai. No medical treatment or medication for the Chief Engineers diabetes has been received and no outstanding wages has been paid to the seafarer’s families.
Reporter Deepayan Sinha said – “Demanding a positive step to bring back the jailed sailors safely, the family members of 11 Indian sailors met India’s External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj on Tuesday 18th August 2015. Rajya Sabha member Ritabrata Banerjee had written her a letter on Aug 11 urging her to ensure the return of the sailors.
Sushma Swaraj informed them that the Indian government had asked for all reports regarding this case from the Indian Mission in Nigeria’s Abuja. She said that the Indian embassy in Nigeria was observing the matter and also providing necessary money to the sailors for their expenses in jail.
Swaraj has told the family members that the government is also seeking legal help to the sailors to fight their cases in the Nigerian court. She also assured their families that they would help them in all possible ways to bring the sailors back to India.”
Up till this time, no contact or visits from families could be confirmed and no Port Chaplaincy services had been rendered.D. On the 18th August, the MSWB officially submitted a complaint on behalf of the seafarer’s and their families to the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency.
Planning, briefing and the risk assessment was followed by seeking clearances and authorizations for the Ecumenical cluster of 3 chaplains from the Crisis Response Centre network to render humanitarian / welfare / chaplaincy counselling services to the imprisoned crew of MT Maro in Yenagoa,
High praise is due to the MPHRP London and India, National Seafarers Welfare Board Nigeria ( NSWB – Lagos and Port Harcourt), ITF Nigeria, Merchant Navy Officers Association, Trade Union Congress of Nigeria (TUCN) and the Regional/National Directors of the Sailors Society, Missions to Seafarers and Apostleship of the Sea for their rapid and positive responses which enabled us to submit visa applications and complete our preparations in time to fly out to Nigeria.
Our visas arrived on the 10th September and we arrived in Lagos on the 11th to be met assisted and updated by the MSWB secretary. Assisted by an NSWB and ITF official (for which we are very grateful) from Port Harcourt to and in Yenagoa, we arrived at the Prison, and were immediately cleared to meet the Duty Officer.
He graciously received us (despite this being a Saturday afternoon) and assisted by agreeing to submit our application for short notice visits to the ACP, Okaka Prison Yenagoa – because our request was based on “rendering humanitarian assistance of a non political nature in an extraordinary situation”. Our role was purely to support the imprisoned seafarers in their spiritual, physical social and mental states and render critical incident stress management guidance ie.
Traumatic incident reduction. The political and legal implications will be handled by the Indian / Nigerian Embassies and the Nigerian Courts.
Credit goes to the ACP who authorised our visitation on the Sunday with effect from the following week. Accompanied by the NSWB and ITF (Port Harcourt) officials Fr Thami Tembe and I were granted access to the seafarers and allowed distribute empty toiletry bags for storing their toiletries, daily devotional books and current news magazines as well as recording their names, vessels and status.
At this point, as the seafarers joined us, we were introduced not to 11 but 38 of all ranks and ratings from 4 ships. Most were awaiting trial and some had been there for 3 years. There were 2 who had received sentences of 14 years and were appealing these and another who had served 4 years of his 8 year sentence. One told us that he was a stowaway who had been arrested along with the crew. Others were not serving in the merchant navy and were facing prosecution for illegal activities in the delta region.
Time limitations were against us on the final day, so ‘one on one’ debriefing and or Stress/Trauma reduction sessions were impossible, so we worked on a ‘group session’ principle and did as much as we were able.
Their ready and voluntary responses brought about satisfactory outcomes leaving a foundation for further counselling sessions.
In the last 10 minutes available to us we gave the invitation and opportunity for sharing in a Communion Service. The Dep. ACP made the Chapel available and we set out the Elements (using water and wafers).
Soon the Chapel filled up as others joined us and we ran out of service response sheets. This made little difference because as we got to the responses, a deep base chorus rang out as they responded from memory, with gusto!
The Crisis Response Centre cluster recommends and requests that:
. i.The NSWB official in Port Harcourt (who also is an auxiliary Pastor) and the ITF Assistant Inspector continue with follow up visits to these seafarers to:-
a. Render and facilitate welfare services, medical care, address outstanding salary issues and legal guidance.
b. Bring in systematic Pastoral care utilising local Port Chaplains and Prison Chaplains [from a nearby church in Yenagoa, who from who have offered their services.
c. With the help of the MHPRP – India, bring in mail and news from families and download current news from their country.
ii. The Indian Embassy in Lagos is thanked for financial assistance granted and that they be briefed and updated with statistics of the number of Indian seafarers imprisoned. Furthermore that they be encouraged to expedite court hearings or an early release.
iii. Their shipping companies, where possible be invited and encouraged to assist these men.
iv. The MLC 2006 implementers of Para 4.4 in Nigeria and other countries, consider consulting with organisations like the NSWB to utilise their input and resources to manage this process.
The CLC Response Cluster is most grateful to the MPHRP, National Seafarers Welfare Board Nigeria (NSWB) ITF Nigeria, Merchant Navy Officers Association, Trade Union Congress of Nigeria (TUCN) and the Regional/National Directors of the Sailors Society and Missions to Seafarers and Apostleship of the Sea for their help.
The Rev. J. D. van Schalkwyk and Fr. T. H. Thembi
CRC Response Cluster.