Stowaway ship departs on time from Antwerp
23 December 2005, BRUSSELS — The Maltese container ship Sint-Elmo departed from the Antwerp port according to schedule on Thursday night following the discovery of 10 stowaways on board the vessel earlier this week.
23 December 2005
BRUSSELS — The Maltese container ship Sint-Elmo departed from the Antwerp port according to schedule on Thursday night following the discovery of 10 stowaways on board the vessel earlier this week.
The ship departed at about 10pm after public prosecution questioning and specialist investigations indicated the captain and crew had not been aware that the illegal immigrants had accompanied them on the original passage from Lagos, Nigeria.
The stowaways had declared under questioning that they had climbed up the ship's hull and that the captain must have heard them. But the public prosecution office said the claim remains unproven, newspaper 'De Standaard' reported.
An inspection of the rudder room where the 10 stowaways were hiding has revealed there was a hatch between the rudder room and the rest of the ship. However, the hatch had been closed with 13 heavy bolts.
The public prosecution office also said there were no signs found on the paint that the hatch had been recently opened. The stowaways were found in a cramped cavity above the ship's rudder. The rudder room is accessible from outside the boat.
Prosecution officials doubt the authenticity of the stowaways' story, who claim they lived 11 days on sea water after their meager provisions were used up soon after the boat departed from Nigeria on 9 December.
They appeared to be in good health on Thursday. The 10 men were not in shock. They were 10kg underweight and had a dry skin. One of them had a minor broken bone.
Given the tough circumstances of their journey, their health is thus relatively good. The Nigerians departed as a party of 12, but two are believed to have died from the hardship. The prosecution said there is a significant chance their deaths occurred in Belgian waters.
The stowaways are aged between 20 and 25. But given the fact they had no documents with them, it is not certain whether they were all of Nigerian nationality.
They have been given new clothing at the cost of the shipping company and are currently being detained in the asylum seeker centre in Vottem. They are not expected to be granted asylum and will be repatriated either by ship or plane at the cost of the shipping company.
The number of stowaways reaching Antwerp harbour has fallen to 60 per year compared with 200 several years ago. The decline is due primarily to tighter port security since the 11 September terrorist attacks in the US in 2001.
[Copyright Expatica News 2005]
Subject: Belgian news