Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Stowaway tragedy in Tilbury

The Convention on Facilitation of International Maritime Traffic, 1965, as amended, (The FAL Convention), define stowaway as “A person who is secreted on a ship, or in cargo which is subsequently loaded on the ship, without the consent of the shipowner or the master or any other responsible person and who is detected on board the ship after it has departed from a port, or in the cargo while unloading it in the port of arrival, and is reported as a stowaway by the master to the appropriate authorities”.
Unnoticed by the captain, crew, port officials and customs authorities, stowaways may gain access to a ship with or without the assistance of port personnel. Once on board the ship, stowaways hide in empty containers, cargo holds, tanks, tunnels, behind false panels, stores, accommodation areas, engine rooms, void spaces, cranes and chain lockers.
The presence of stowaways on board ships may bring serious consequences for ships and, by extension, to the shipping industry as a whole; the ship could be delayed in port; the repatriation of stowaways can be a very complex and costly procedure involving masters, shipowners, port authorities and agents, and the life of stowaways could be endangered as they may spent several days hidden, with the risk of suffocation and without any food or water. And that was the fate of the 35 stoways discovered in a container in the Port of Tilbury in the United Kingdom last week.
The Port of Tilbury is reputed to be London’s major port, providing fast, modern distribution services for the benefit of the south east of England and beyond. It is a dynamic and diverse port handling the full range of cargoes with specialist expertise in the handling of paper and forest products, containers, RoRo, grain and bulk commodities and construction and building materials.
Tilbury’s strategic location makes it the natural point for distribution with 18 million people living within 75 miles. Serving the UK’s market, the port offers customers excellent transport links to and from the capital and across the South East where over 50% of the population live and work.
The discovery of 35 Afghani Sikhs in a container in the port sent shockwaves through the media globally and especially in Britain.
Tragedy had struck in the last leg of the illegal migrants’ route in the early hours of Saturday morning. A route that terminated with a passage from Zeebrugge to Tilbury in the airless steel container that threatened to become a cold and dark coffin for all of its occupants. With ages ranging from 1 to 72, the families brought their ordeal to an end by drawing the attention of dock workers to their plight with a frenzied banging and screaming from within, sadly not before one of their number, 40 year-old Meet Singh Kapoor, had died in his family’s arms – an end he tragically shared with the 58 Chinese migrants who succumbed to a similar fate in when they died in a truck from Zeebrugge to Dover some 14 years ago.
Several questions remain unanswered as a result of the tragic incidence. How could a container, laden with human cargo – in these days of heightened security measures borne out of concerted implementation of the International Ships & Ports Facility Security Code (ISPS) Code – have so effortlessly traversed countries and continents undetected? Who owned the box? How did the migrants get inside?
The two most known forms of organized immigration crimes are human trafficking and people smuggling. In the former, victims are coerced and transported under duress into a life of prostitution or enforced servitude – effectively modern-day slavery.
In the latter, an example of which we saw in Tilbury, victims pay large sums of money to criminal gangs who arrange for their transport to countries where they expect to embark on new and better lives or generate income to support families left behind – desperate people who will go to great lengths, including risking their lives, to make a better life for themselves and their families.
The sad fact is that as long as there are desperate and vulnerable people, there will be ruthless criminals waiting to exploit them; parting them from their life’s savings, transporting them like cattle with no concern for their welfare, especially once their profits have been realised; normally in advance.
A container is no place for human cargo; almost airtight, subject to extremes of heat and cold and impossible to escape from when locked from the outside without help, it is little wonder that this incident ended in tragedy and surprising that it wasn’t an even more tragic end, just like the Chinese migrants whose hope for a better life ended with the sad repatriation of their bodies to China back in 2000.
The really worrying aspect of this latest incident, according to analysts, is the potential for this to be the start of a new trend, as organized criminals seek to exploit destination ports less used to the daily ‘cat and mouse’ games played out at the Channel ports, where highly skilled border officials in the UK and France conduct technology-enabled, intelligence-led operations to stem the constant flow of illegal migrants.
Targeting new destinations and using new modes of transport, such as shipping containers, could be the criminals’ latest attempt to seize the initiative and combat increasingly efficient border controls.
The Tilbury tragedy therefore has become a wake-up call for the port and shipping community.
Back home in Nigeria, there are effective measures put in place to ensure the failure of stow away adventurists. For one, access to the terminals and quay aprons is highly restricted. Empty containers brought into the port by truck must remain open until they are offloaded even as more stringent measures to deter a potential stowaway are implemented. The emerging challenge for the maritime industry, ports and border officials is to reduce the probability of these potential tragedies by engaging in increasingly innovative technologies, intelligence-led operations and cooperation across national boundaries to minimise tragic outcomes.
This is not an easy task, but a very important one.

Monday, 11 August 2014

Patrick Sawyer's undiplomatic behaviour

The Latin phrases De mortuis nihil nisi bonum (Of the dead, nothing unless good) and De mortuis nil nisi bene [dicendum] (Of the dead, nothing {spoken} unless good) indicate that it is socially inappropriate to speak ill of the dead.
There have been several notable deaths of either very evil people, or people who helped enable evil people. For each of these passings, the threads have been full of posts gloating or chastising the gloaters.
So why exactly is it bad to acknowledge that the world is a slightly better place now that some people are gone, if for nothing more than a sense of justice?
"They aren't here to defend themselves" is a weak argument, since many bad people, while living, felt no guilt in attacking the defenseless.
"It's disrespectful" also does not work. What is it about death that automatically grants one the respect that many were not willing to grant them in life because of their evil deeds?
"Think of the family?" Did the deceased think of the families of those who they were hurting? Did the deceaseds' families try and prevent the evil done by their loved ones?
My column this week is about the Liberian who imported Ebola into Nigeria. Ebola has been in some West African countires since 1976 Nigeria had absolutely nothing to do with it. This is the first time in 38 years that the virus would cross into Nigeria.
From information emanating from his own country, the late diplomat knew for sure he had been infected and was at the throes of death. He knew very well that he should not come in contact with other people, yet he decided to travel to Nigeria.
Shortly after his death, a Liberian newspaper, The New Dawn, reported thus: "Images from a Close Circuit Television (CCTV) monitored here at the James Spriggs Payne's Airport have shown how the late Patrick Sawyer was terribly ill before boarding the Nigeria bond (sic)  flight. The late Patrick from the recording, it appears he knew, he had been infected by the deadly tropical disease.
"His behavior, among other passengers waiting at the boarding gate was strange. His face bore a sad countenance like someone who was troubled, as he sat alone avoiding body contacts with everyone who came close by him.
"His strange behavior and frequent movement up and down as he eagerly awaits his ASky flight had prompted the security camera operator to focus on him. In the video, Patrick could be seen avoiding physical contacts with airport employees and other passengers during the check in process.
"After checking in, Patrick briefings (sic) left the terminal, but he would soon be shown sitting in an isolated area by himself at the boarding gate or waiting room. The video footage also shows the late Patrick lying flat on his stomach on the floor in the corridor of the airport a sign of someone in excruciating pain.
"This writer, who also watched the video footage of Patrick at the Spriggs Payne Airport said the late Patrick was seen preventing people from touching him. The recording shows him snubbing an Immigration officer who was seen moving straight toward him in a friendly gesture for a handshake as he boarded the flight. The footage was shown after his death was announced upon arrival in Nigeria."
What further evidence does one require? The guy knew he had been infected and he knew very well the implication of his travel. Even his wife in a video clip I watched online confirmed that they knew he had been infected after making contact with his sister who had died of the disease a few days earlier. 
The Liberian government also confirmed in an apology tendered to Nigeria that Sawyer's action was anything but noble.  
"The Liberian President has personally called to apologise on the unfortunate development. She specifically said her country had declared a state of emergency over the Ebola epidermic in Liberia. She equally apologised that Sawyer ignored medical advice and escaped out of Liberia," Nigeria's Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Nurudeem Mohammed, told journalists in Abuja on Thursday.
But what worries me is why Sawyer was not stopped from travelling by the airport officials who noticed his sickly condition. And how could he have escaped out of Liberia? He escaped through the nation's international airport? Did he disguise in the robes of a woman? And since the Liberian authorities knew his state of health, why didn't they alert their Nigerian counterparts? 
If Sawyer's recalcitrant disposition in his own country does not baffle you, listen to what he did to the medical team trying to save his live here in Nigeria. Another Liberian newspaper, FrontPageAfrica captures it: "Barely 24 hours before his death, Patrick Sawyer had a rather strange - and in the words of medical and diplomatic sources here, "Indiscipline" encounter with nurses and health workers at First Consultants Hospital in Obalende, one of the most crowded parts of Lagos, a population of some 21 million inhabitants, FrontPageAfrica has learned.
"Looking to get to the bottom of Sawyer's strange ailment on the Asky Airline flight, which Sawyer transferred on in Togo, hospital officials say, he was tested for both malaria and HIV AIDS. However, when both tests came back negative, he was then asked whether he had made contact with any person with the Ebola Virus, to which Sawyer denied. Sawyer's sister, Princess had died of the deadly virus on Monday, July 7, 2014 at the Catholic Hospital in Monrovia. On Friday, July 25, 2014, 18 days later, Sawyer died in Lagos.
"Authorities at the First Consultants Hospital in Obalende decided that despite Sawyer's denial, they would test him for Ebola, due to the fact that he had just arrived from Liberia, where there has been an outbreak of the disease with more than 100 deaths. The hospital issued a statement this week stating that Sawyer was quarantined immediately after he was discovered to have been infected with the deadly virus. In addition, a barrier nursing was implemented around Sawyer and the Lagos State Ministry of Health was immediately notified. Hospital authorities also requested the Federal Ministry of Health for additional laboratory test based on its suspicion of Ebola.
"FrontPageAfrica has now learned that upon being told he had Ebola, Mr. Sawyer went into a rage, denying and objecting to the opinion of the medical experts. "He was so adamant and difficult that he took the tubes from his body and took off his pants and urinated on the health workers, forcing them to flee."
The emphasis is mine. 
Need I say more? This guy behaved badly. He came to inflict pains on Nigeria and Nigerians. And it has to be said and documented for posterity. 

Monday, 4 August 2014

Minister behaving badly

Nigerian government officials have no respect for the laws of the land. They not only flout the laws with impunity, they flaunt their lawlessness before all to see.
Minister of Power, Prof. Chinedu Nebo was an unusual guest when he visited the port about 10 days ago but his behaviour was not unusual. It was typical of our ogas at the top.
Nebo had come to take delivery of over 200 containers abandoned by the defunct Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN). The containers, laden with National Integrated Power Project (NIPP) equipment of the Obasanjo era had been abandoned at the port since 2003. They were left at the port for 11 years to rot. No wonder the suffering has continued unabated. And we blame generator suppliers for sabotaging government's effort to provide uninterrupted electricity for Nigerians. Is it generators dealers that abandoned these multi-billion naira equipment at the port. I was part of a team of stakeholders that met with Vice President Namadi Sambo at the Presidential Villa, Abuja in June 2010. The meeting was at the instance of the Vice President who had requested for waivers for the NIPP containers which had stayed at the ports for about seven years at the time. Terminal operators and shipping companies wasted no time as they promptly announced storage charges and demurrage waivers ranging from 60% to 80% for the overtime cargo. VP Sambo was quite elated with the terminal operators' response he immediately directed the Power Ministry officials at the time to immediately take delivery of the containers to enhance power generation and distribution. But that was the last anyone would hear of the NIPP containers until Nebo showed up four years later. 
Nebo came at the time many commuters and residents of Apapa were groaning under an unprecedented gridlock occassioned by bad roads as a result of near total neglect by the federal government. 
Nebo, accompanied by several senior officials of the Ministry of Power including the Permanent Secretary, Godknows Igali, had an answer to the menacing traffic. Not minding the insensitivity and the criminality of their action, Nebo and his entourage drove against traffic. Right from Ijora Olopa, they drove on the wrong side of the road, facing oncoming traffic and not minding the danger they posed to other road users. With siren blaring and mobile policemen wielding guns, there was no stopping the big man
People who intentionally drive in the wrong direction do so either because they missed an exit, for thrill-seeking, as a suicide attempt, or as a shortcut. Nebo's was for shortcut. And it is not only illegal, it is immoral. The consequence of this action is that Nebo and his team have committed a serious traffic offence and they must be compelled to pay the appropriate fine and undergo necessary psychiatric evaluation in line with the traffic laws of Lagos State. An offence of that magnitude would earn them three years in jail or N50,000 fine but since they are first-time offenders (I hope), the Minister may get away with one year jail term. 
Lagos State Government should institute an action against the Minister to convey a strong message to others in his ilk. Our government officials can not be above the law if we are serious about our development as a nation. Examples abound from other climes of how top government officials are made to face justice when they misbehave. 
Former Vice Presidential candidate of the Republican Party, Sarah Palin, was, less than two weeks ago, fined for speeding in Alaska after being caught driving at 63mph in a 45mph zone. It might interest you to know that Palin was governor of Alaska from Decenber 2006 to July 2009. And she was stopped by a trooper and fined. And she paid the fine. She paid $154 to the state for her action.    
On May 31, 2001 President Bush's 19-year old twin daughters Jenna and Barbara were ticketed by police in Austin, Texas for alcohol-related misdemeanors, while attempting to buy alcohol at a Mexican restaurant. Jenna Bush was cited for misprepresentation of age by a minor for allegedly using someone else's identification to order an alcoholic beverage. His mother and former First Lady, Barbara Bush was ticketed for possession of alcohol by a minor. All of these happened while George Bush was the sitting President of the United States of America.
Impunity agaisnt the law arises from the failure of the State to meet its obligation to investigate violations. The State must not only investigate violations, it must take appropriate measures in respect of the perpetrators by ensuring that those suspected of violations are prosecuted, tried and duly punished. Nobody should be above the law no matter how highly place. Since the offence was committed in Lagos State, the state government has the responsibilty of setting an example. Just as Governor Fashola made an example of Colonel Yusuf in January 2012; he should order the prosecution of Chinedu Nebo to further discourage impunity by top government functionaries. 

And by the way, I was caught up in traffic on Osborne Road, Ikoyi sometimes last year. We were on that stretch of road for about 45 minutes as the traffic moved slowly. I looked to my left and behold, it was the Deputy Governor of Lagos State, Mrs. Adejoke Orelope-Adefulire. She sat quietly with her aides in her official car. A pilot car in front with its siren not blairng (not even a sound!) and another car packed full of security details behind, the Deputy Governor's convoy moved along with the traffic. They did not even as much as switch lanes. They just moved on like every other motorist. I doff my hat ma'am.