The crew of the platform supply vessel Sutton Tide are facing a criminal trial in Soyo, Angola, for allegedly being complicit in the theft of fuel, a charge they deny.
The crew has been denied proper legal representation and detailed explanations about the charges they are facing. While technically not under arrest, they thought they were, and this hampered early attempts to gain legal representation.
Despite the involvement of the Ukrainian Embassy and the Ukrainian ambassador to highlight the investigation’s procedural irregularities, the prosecution has continued without proper legal representation of the crew and limited evidence.
The vessel is owned by Sonatide, a joint venture between Tidewater and Sonangol, the national oil company of Angola. It is believed that Sonatide received a complaint from a member of the crew alleging that the master, colluding with other members of the vessel, sold about 104 cubic meters of diesel without the consent of the owners and during which time the AIS was turned off. The accusation was passed to the local authorities by Sonatide's area office in Soyo.
The office has reportedly refused to accept responsibility for the crew, providing neither support for their on-going stay in Soyo nor comprehensive legal representation. The cres had been prevented from leaving Soyo for three months, as they lacked the appropriate paperwork from Sonatide. In addition, the crew have not been paid since March 24. Their legal expenses have already reached approximately $15,000, the majority of which has been paid by their families.
On May 14, a Russian member of the crew purportedly attempted suicide after drinking, and the rest of the crew have been demonstrating increasingly suicidal tendencies.
Human Rights at Sea has released a case study and investigative report into the abuses of the seafarers' human rights with a statement from the seafarer. In part, it says this:
“I am optimist, but I also read my present situation very clear. I don’t like to kill myself, but between fast and slow death I chose fast.
“We are here already almost three months we survive many bad things, we are unprotected, and for local people we are white sheep ready for slaughter. Sorry for using these words, but in short the story is like this.
“I don’t want to kill myself, but if I stay here in prison then my death will be very slowly and painful.
“My family is already in big suffering. During my time here, my wife finished hospital for surgery. She is already two months in bed, and she cannot even take care about our son. He is now with his grandmother. I believe that story's from other colleagues regarding family are also very bad.”
The Human Rights at Sea report highlights a series of important issues, including overarching breaches of basic human rights, perverting the course of justice, a poor investigation, limited and contradicting evidence against the crew, lack of legal support, lack of employer support and provision of legal advice and mental health and welfare problems.
The report is available here.