Drama unfolded at the Tema Fishing Harbour last week Thursday, when the media exposed Chinese owners of a fishing vessel (MV LU RONG YUAN YU 917), which was recently seized by pirates in the Ghanaian waters for trying to hide the death of Ghanaians who were onboard the vessel. At a news conference the owners organized to throw more light on the seizure of the vessel, the Tema Metropolitan Chief Executive, Isaac Odamten among others did not hide their joy at the safe return of the hijacked fishing vessel, but none of them made mention of the disaster that occurred at sea.
When the journalists asked the organizers of the conference why the briefing went on without mentioning the death of the Ghanaian whose body was deposited in a morgue in the Togolese capital, Lome, and the disappearance of three others who are feared dead, it took the intervention of the Navy to answer the question.
A press statement read by the Chinese Embassy in Accra at the same news conference reads; in the night of January 28th, 2015, LU RONG YUAN YU 917 was hijacked by pirates when it conducted work in the waters of Ghana. In the morning of February 3rd, 2015, the pirates abandoned the boat and fled while the boat returned to the harbour safely.
On the 4th of February, 2015, at 9:00 pm, the hijacked Chinese fishing boat LU RONG YUAN YU 917 arrived in the Tema Port safe and sound. Chinese ambassador to Ghana, H.E. Ms Sun Boahong and representatives from the Ghanaian navy, the Ministry of Fisheries and Aquaculture, Chinese enterprises positioned in Ghana and Chinese community in Ghana received LU RONG YUAN YU 917 at the port.
Ambassador Sun expressed gratitude towards relevant government authorities of Ghana and other involved countries for the important role they played in dealing with the hijack matter, and reminded Chinese fishing companies in Ghana of strengthening the awareness and capability in risk prevention.
Ambassador Sun expressed sympathy and solicitude for sailors and assured them that Chinese embassies and consulates will continue to provide excellent consular protection and services for overseas Chinese citizens. When the statement was read without mentioning the fatality, The Chronicle launched full scale investigations into the issue which and revealed that, LU RONG YUAN YU 917 arrived in the country a year ago and the Chinese owners went into partnership with MYSTICAL GRACE, the Ghanaian fishing license holder to fish in the Ghanaian waters.
The MV LU RONG YUAN YU 917 left the Tema Fishing Harbour on Sunday 18th January, 2015, for fishing expedition. On Thursday 22nd January, 2015, at about 7:30pm the crew members dropped the net and were sorting the fish into the hatches when suddenly four armed and masked persons got on board the vessel at Dixcove in the Western Region. Some of the crew members, including the boatswain, one Kofi Nyan, ran into hiding.
The armed men demanded to see the boatswain and when he surfaced, he was marched at gun point to the captain’s bridge, where the hijackers, who were now joined by two others, also armed, ordered the Chinese master of the boat, to switch off all communication equipment on board, which he complied. Within a minute, the number of hijackers had increased to eight (8), with two remaining in a speed boat they were using. The second order from them was for the captain to draw the net which had then been dropped, produced a map and charted a course with an indication 090.
The captain wanted to know where they were heading to, but the boatswain, Nyan, asked him to be silent and the pirates set the speed on 11 Nautical miles/hour (11NOTS) and sailed towards the east. The Chronicle’s inquisition had it that, the bandits were speaking Pidgin English with Nigerian accent but occasionally spoke in Yuroba language.
The boatswain, Kofi Nyan, the Chronicle gathered, who was always with the pirates was robbed of GHC 600 and Laptop, but pleaded with them to leave his seafaring documents which they went and dumped in his locker, took GHc 2,000 from James Essandoh, the fish master and unspecified amount taken from other crew members.
In the afternoon of Friday, the pirates wanted to know the quantity of diesel in the tank and when it came to light that the amount was 50,000 metric tons, they used a Very High Frequency (VHF) radio to reach a vessel to come and take 40, 000 metric tons.
As a result, the crew was compelled to fix hoses ready to pump the fuel out while awaiting the arrival of the supposed vessel but the pirates suddenly diverted the course of the vessel to the high sea on a code 020 between Togo and Benin waters. On Sunday, 1st February, 2015, the pirates detected that the radar had picked a signal of approaching Togolese Navy vessel. They, therefore, told their victims to pretend as if they were all fishermen.
The Togolese navy then asked through the public address system where the vessel was going and the boatswain, now being threatened with gun and explosives in their possession, which they were no longer concealing, answered that they were fishing from Ghana to Benin.
Strangely, the pirates after scrutinizing various passports of the sailors got to know that the fish master, James Essandoh had a lot of stamps in his passport from French speaking countries, which was an indication that he could speak French. The pirate then asked him to communicate with the Togolese navy and made them understand that the vessel had developed an engine problem hence could not stop.
The Togolese gun boat reportedly fired three warning shots as it moved alongside the fishing vessel, this time widening the gap to about 80 metres. Unfortunately for the pirates who had wanted to return fire, the speedboat which was moored to the fishing vessel disengaged and sunk. Having realised that their only means of escape was gone, the pirates openly said “all die be die” and subsequently summoned the boatswain, two Chinese, and instructed them to inform the crew to either jump out of the vessel into the sea or they the hijackers would push them overboard.
The boatswain, our findings revealed, gathered the crew and told them that as night was approaching the pirates could kill them, so he wanted to know if all the sailors could swim. All but three (3) answered in affirmative. The boatswain again asked his people to hold themselves in readiness as he and two others paired those who said that they could not swim and that at the count of three, all should jump into the water to be saved by the Togolese naval speed boat.
Two Chinese joined them and truly, at that order, they jumped but one of the pirates holding a knife would not allow the last person to escape as he stabbed him several times before pushing him into the water resulting in his death.Surprisingly, three of those who claimed they could swim disappeared and could not be found by the Togolese rescue team in the speed boat.
Left on board were four Chinese who were taken away by the pirates as the Togolese navy felt it was too dark, so it relocated to its base in Lome port with the 21, including the dead, Emmanuel Dzesse. Those who disappeared were Ekow Nyankoma from Apam, said to be a diver, Isaac Bentsil and Daniel Oppong.
The Chronicle’s investigations further disclosed that the fishing vessel LU RONG YUAN YU 917 was intercepted by the Nigerian navy after the hijackers encountered them. The Nigerian navy, therefore, handed over the distressed fishing vessel to its Togolese counterpart who in turn allowed the Ghanaian navy to take charge before finally berthing her at exactly 2000 hours on Wednesday 4th February, 2015 with the four Chinese on board at the Tema Fishing Harbour.
Prior to that, the Chinese and Ghanaian ambassadors to Togo were at the Togolese naval dock to visit their respective nationals who were almost naked. The Chinese ambassador, our findings continued, took their nationals, procured new clothes for them and drove them to Tema, while the Ghanaians were driven in a Togolese naval bus to Aflao, where transport arrangement was made by Alhaji Issah Abbas, to also send them to Tema.
In the case of the deceased, our information is that the license operators, MYSTICAL GRACE met with the family members on Monday 9th February, 2015 to work out modalities for the burial. Sources close to the company hinted that, an amount of GHc 5, 000 was earmarked for the funeral while awaiting preparation for the insurance cover for both the dead and survivors.
An official of the company, Anthony Kumasah when contacted confirmed the role his company is playing to ensure that the funeral and burial arrangements are done with expenses borne by them.
Meanwhile, Alhaji Issah Abass, a known seafarer who was once a boatswain on board a tanker, MT STABENKO, was in the Togolese capital where he collaborated with Ghanaian embassy officials in that country to remove the body of Emmanuel Dzesse and deposited it at Trafalga hospital mortuary in the Volta Regional Capital, Ho.
Maritime Security News:
An interesting report for a number of reasons. Some sources have still not reported the FV as safe, for example, while there remains general confusion as to the number of dead crew, with one initially cited in most ‘official’ reports. The news that four crew may now be confirmed as dead makes this incident even worse.
Despite claims by some countries in the region and regular media reports from “stakeholders” praising work done by regional navies, piracy and maritime crime remain significant issues in West Africa and the move by NIMASA to ban all foreign guards from its waters can only be a step backwards for maritime security in West Africa.