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General News of Monday, 7 May 2001

Source: Graphic -By Albert K. Salia

ITF Rescues Sailors Abandoned in Bulgaria

THE intervention of the Paris-based International Transport Workers Federation (ITF) saved the lives of seven Ghanaian seafarers who had been abandoned in Bulgaria by their employers virtually without food and water since September 1998 at the Bulgarian Port of Burgas.

Notwithstanding the timely nature of the ITF assistance, it came too late for Jacob Andoh, the eighth Ghanaian, who died as a result of the inability of his colleagues to raise funds to take him to hospital for medical attention.

The seven Ghanaians, who survived the ordeal on the Olga J Vessel, through begging for food from passing ships at Port Burgas, Bulgaria before the intervention of ITF, are Francis Koomson, Ato Blankson, Ernest Amoabeng, Barnabas Atcherku, Felix Dwamena, Ransford Eshun and Emmanuel Ansah Dodoo.

The spokesman for the group, Mr Francis Koomson, narrating their ordeal to the Graphic, said the vessel had been operating in Ghana from 1989 till 1991, shuttling between Ghana and Nigeria until it was contracted by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) to transport refugees from Monrovia through Freetown to Conakry during the Liberian conflict.

He said they engaged in this work up to 1997 when the ship was sold to the Greek national, John Christo Dolou.

He said Dolou after taking over the ownership of the vessel, told the crew he needed skeleton crew to take the ship to Cape Verde for servicing and, therefore, paid off some of the workers.

Mr Koomson said on their arrival at Cape Verde, Dolou informed them the service charges were too high and requested that the vessel be sent to Greece where he thought the charges would be cheaper.

He said in Greece, Dolou again complained of the high cost involved and suggested that they went to Bulgaria for the repairs, through Israel to pick some food items.

He said on their arrival in Bulgaria, Port State Control Officers came to inspect their vessel and later told them it had been detained for deficiencies.

Mr Koomson said the vessel owner later came to give them a cheque to cash to support their upkeep until things were sorted out with the port officials and that he would return to pay them off to enable them return to their country.

He said that was the last time they saw the owner and that the cheque was found to be dud.

He said it was the Captain of the ship, George Dimitrios, also a Greek, who came to inform them a week later that the owner had abandoned the ship and could not be traced.

According to Mr Koomson, they went to lodge a complaint with the Harbour Master who directed them to deal with the seafarers trade unions since he could not assist them.

He said the Bulgarian Seafarers Trade Union assisted the group with food and also petitioned the courts to help the crew retrieve their wages.

He said after some time, the union came to inform them that the court was demanding $10,000 before proceeding with the case and since they could not raise the funds, “we were left to our fate and at which time we were confined to the port and guarded by the military while the union also stopped feeding us”.

Mr Koosom said the group started writing to various maritime organisations for assistance until the ITF responded with an offer of tickets and $200 which the group turned down because it was considered an unfair package.

He said it was at this stage that the other groups came in to support and seek legal redress since it constituted abuse of their rights.

With the help of the ITF, the Mission to Seafarers, Secours Catholique, Comite Catholique contre la Faim et pour le Developpement and the Federation Generale des Transport et de l’Equipement, all France-based human rights and humanitarian organisations, the seven were provided with plane tickets and some little assistance to return home in the company of a French freelance journalist, Olivier Aubert, to assess the state of their families and report back to the organisations.

They have also engaged the services of a legal practitioner in France to seek legal redress at the European Court of Human Rights in France to compel the shipowner, Dolou, a Greek, to fully settle their unpaid salaries and compensate them for their ordeal and abuse of their rights during the period.

The journalist, Mr Aubert, who accompanied the Ghanaians, said the issue of abandonment is so alarming that the French organisations have decided to use the plight of the Ghanaians to fight for fair deals for all seafarers.

He said he was sponsored by the organisations to do a documentary about their plight to enable the French Attorney to make a strong case, hence his coming to Ghana to see the condition of their families.