Stowaways Charged Over Altercation Aboard the Grande Tema
The four Nigerian stowaways who were arrested aboard the con/ro Grande Tema last month have been charged with affray for allegedly threatening the vessel's crew and attempting to take control of the ship.
The Grande Tema's crew discovered the stowaways in mid-December as the vessel made her way from Nigeria to the port of Tilbury, UK. The master had the unauthorized passengers locked away in a cabin, and the crew provided them with food during the journey. However, on the morning of December 21, the four men broke out of their accommodations and allegedly threatened the crew with iron bars, demanding to be taken closer to shore. Grande Tema's 27 crewmembers locked themselves on the bridge to ensure their own security and alerted the authorities. They put the vessel into a holding pattern in the English Channel, just off Margate, while they awaited assistance.
That night, 14 hours after receiving the request, 25 Royal Navy Marines from the Special Boat Service's X Squadron abseiled onto the Grande Tema's deck from helicopters and arrested the stowaways. No one was injured as they regained control of the ship in a 25-minute operation.
Essex Police oversaw the operation, and the agency said in a statement that the altercation was being treated as a safety-related incident, not an act of piracy. The four men are being held under the UK's Immigration Act.
The accused - named by UK authorities as Samuel Jolumi, 26, Ishola Sunday, 27, Toheeb Popoola, 26, and Joberto McGee, 20 - have been charged with affray, a UK offense consisting of using or threatening to use unlawful violence. The charge is often deployed after bar fights and soccer-match brawls, and it carries a maximum penalty of three years in prison. In a court hearing on New Years' Eve, the men did not enter pleas in response.
The lead prosecutor may also bring more serious charges under the UK's Aviation and Maritime Security Act, which contains stiffer penalties for offenses related to vessel safety. During the hearing, the prosecutor asked the court for a three week delay in order to allow for more preparations, asserting that the case may be "undercharged" relative to the severity of the alleged crime.