20 July 2006

Namibia: Umfolozi Mystery Deepens

Windhoek — THE Port Captain at Walvis Bay, Vladimir Gusev, has been suspended in the wake of the container ship Umfolozi vanishing from the harbour.

Both Gusev himself and a Namibian Ports Authority (NamPort) official, speaking on condition of anonymity, confirmed yesterday that the suspension was linked to the container ship being stolen from the harbour on Saturday.

The ship, which was being detained on the basis of a High Court order, has not been seen since.

The Umfolozi made headlines in September last year when it sank in the Walvis Bay harbour after colliding with a South African dredger.

After it was repaired and refloated, the Umfolozi was rechristened the Michael S and was sold to a Greek ship owner, Alexander Saleh, who, it is being alleged, is responsible for spiriting away the ship.

Crew members are alleged to have boarded the ship under false pretences, held two security guards captive and later dumped them and their belongings overboard.

It is alleged that Saleh boarded a plane at Windhoek's Hosea Kutako International Airport on the same day.

Approached for comment, Gusev confirmed to The Namibian that he had been notified of his suspension yesterday morning, and that it was related to the theft of the Umfolozi.

He declined to comment further and said all enquiries should be directed to NamPort Managing Director Sebby Kankondi.

Kandkondi could not be reached yesterday.

He was said to be in a meeting for most of the day.

His cellphone was also switched off.

Continuous requests for comment from other NamPort officials were ignored.

Indications late yesterday were that the retired captain Mike van der Meer, a former General Manager of the Namibian Ports Authority, would serve as Acting Port Captain in the meantime.

Minister of Works, Transport and Communications, Joel Kaapanda, told The Namibian late yesterday that he had not been informed about the suspension and therefore could not comment.

The suspension was, however, confirmed by a Ministry official.

Meanwhile a reliable source told The Namibian that the search for the Umfolozi had not yielded any results.

The vessel is presumed to have sailed in a northern direction towards Angola.

Members of NamPol and the Namibian Defence Force, who have been conducting an aerial search since Monday, have returned home without spotting the ship.

According to Acting Deputy Sheriff Andre Visser it is being assumed that the vessel had already reached Angolan waters by Monday.

However, no success has been reported either by the Angolan authorities or Interpol, which have joined in the search.

NamPol officials could not comment on the progress of the search.

The Umfolozi was detained in the harbour in June after the South African Ports Authority won a High Court order against Seagate Shipping for damage done to a South African dredger, Ingwenya, during the collision at Walvis Bay.

Additional reporting by Christof Maletsky

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