Seven Mariners Admit Abandoning Stowaways on Makeshift Raft
The master and six crewmembers of the bulker Top Grace have pleaded guilty to charges of attempted murder for abandoning two stowaways on a makeshift raft off the coast of South Africa.
According to South African prosecutors, the crew of the Top Grace discovered two stowaways - Amiri Salamu, 20 and Hassani Rajabu, 30 - one day after departing the port of Durban, South Africa. Salamu and Rajabu declined the crew's orders to wear facemasks, South Africa's National Police Authority said, and the crew grew afraid that they might carry COVID-19. The defendants - identified as Chinese nationals Capt. Cui Rongli, Lin Xinyong, Zou Yongxian, Tan Yian, Xie Wenbin, Xu Kun and Mu Yong - allegedly decided to disembark the unauthorized passengers at sea.
Prosecutors said that the accused built an impromptu raft out of drums, plywood and line, then compelled Salamu and Rajabu to climb down onto it. After providing them with four bottles of water and two life vests, the crew instructed them to paddle for shore. The Top Grace then got underway once more.
The stowaways managed to make it ashore at Zinkwazi (Nkwazi), where they told authorities that they had been adrift for four days. They identified the ship and the nationality of the crew.
Soon after, the Top Grace berthed at the port of Richards Bay, South Africa, where she was boarded by police. Her master and six crew were arrested and charged with attempted murder for abandoning the stowaways to an uncertain fate. All seven entered guilty pleas in exchange for lighter sentences, with fines of $2,700-$5,400 each and no prison time. Capt. Rongli received an additional fine of about $3,000 for misconduct and failing to report the stowaways.