The personnel of the Nigerian Navy Ship (NNS) Beecroft, attached to the Western Naval Command (WNC), Apapa, Lagos, has rescued 12 stowaways from a Spain-bound vessel MV African Osprey laden with chemicals, at the Lagos anchorage.
The suspects, who had stowed away for three days onboard the vessels without the knowledge of the crew, finally crawled out of their hideout after the strong odour of the chemicals overpowered them. The suspects were identified as a Ghanaian, one Boniface Douglass and 11 Nigerians- Mustapha Ayinla, Bernard Amadi, Azinabor Gideon, Isaac Delight, Daniel Timothy, Justice Agburum, Anthony Oladipupo, Emma Okon, Idowu Adeyemi, Philip Israel and Holly Osatwie.
The Flag Officer Commanding (FOC), Rear Admiral Ilesanmi Alade, who paraded the suspects yesterday, said the suspects had one mission, which was to illegally exit the country onboard the vessel.
He said the arrest and subsequent rescue of the stowaways was done in conjunction with personnel of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA).
He said, "Having established a prima facie case against the suspects, they are being handed over to the Nigerian Immigration Service (NIS) for further investigation and possible prosecution. "It is important you find something to do here because Nigeria is a land of plenty. You can do a lot in this country. It is not compulsory you work in a company, you can even be self employed. You went to do a job onboard and you were paid but you decided to stowaway. "The Nigerian Navy (NN) reiterates its drive to make our waterways safe for legitimate businesses to thrive. However, it wishes to appeal to ship owners and all sea farers to ensure that thorough security checks are conducted onboard prior to departure from Harbour."
Corroborating, the Commanding Officer, NNS Beecroft, Commodore Uwadiae Ovenseri, said the rescue operation was carried out based on information from the ship that there were suspected stowaways onboard the ship.
"The rescue team boarded the ship and 12 stowaways were found onboard the ship. They are composed of 11 Nigerians and one Ghanaian. We carried out preliminary investigations and they confessed that they actually boarded the ship to possible destinations in Europe.
"Their intention was to seek for greener pastures abroad. Based on that confession and extant regulations that issues of this nature, we handed them over to the Nigerian Immigration Service (NIS) for a follow up.
"If there is any young man that wants to travel abroad for greener pastures, he should prepare himself properly and get the requisite travel documents to whatever country of their choice because the streets of Europe are not paved with gold. The Immigration laws there are becoming harder and it is very difficult for stowaways to penetrate."
One of the stowaways, Osatwie, said he hid in one of the cabins, adding that his intention was to join his wife who is in Spain already.
Osatwie who said he worked onboard the ship as a tally clerk, said it was easy to stowaway, adding that he carried only the food he would eat onboard like 15 Gala beef rolls, garri and bags of pure water.
He said, "I have stowed away four times to African countries but I was deported. This time around, I intended to go to Spain. I have two relations I would have joined and they would shelter me although they were not aware I was coming."
Another stowaway, Douglas, who admitted he was a Ghanaian born in Nigeria, said he was a casual worker onboard the vessel so it was easy to sneak in.
He said, "We were prepared because we bought chin-chin amongst other things. We were told we will spend 10 days inside the ship before we get to Spain. I have stowed away to Brazil and some other African countries before but we were always deported by the embassy."
The Assistant Controller of NIS, Lagos Marine Patrol Unit, Mr. Ode Adapoyi, while receiving the stowaways, said the extant immigration act of 1915 empowers only the immigration to determine the nationality of anyone who decides to land or take off from Nigeria.
He said, "It is unfortunate that young Nigerians at the risk of their lives seek for greener pastures but the ones the Navy rescued are fortunate because the less fortunate are thrown overboard by the captain of the vessels on the high sea.
"They should be thanking their stars for the rescue and this is a clarion call for younger ones like them who seek to go out for greener pastures. You can make it here because there are no greener pastures.
"I commend the NN because this is the kind of synergy that security agencies are talking about. No single security agency can do it alone because Nigeria belongs to all of us and security is everybody's business.
"I want to assure that as we take over these suspects, we will still profile and debrief them and we will keep you informed of any further development."