21 nov 2019
A UK court has convicted four Nigerian and Liberian stowaways of the crime of affray for allegedly throwing fecal matter and threatening the crew of the Grimaldi con/ro Grande Tema last year. They were acquitted of the more serious charge of attempted hijacking.
Last December, the defendants – Samuel Jolumi, 27, Ishola Sunday, 28, Toheeb Popoola, 27, and Joberto McGee, 20 – were discovered by the crew and placed in quarantine while the Grande Tema was under way from Lagos, Nigeria to Tilbury, UK. On the morning of December 21, five days after their discovery and confinement, the stowaways allegedly broke free and demanded to be taken ashore in the United Kingdom.
Grande Tema’s 27 crewmembers locked themselves on the bridge to ensure their own security and alerted the authorities. They navigated their vessel in a holding pattern in the English Channel, just off Margate, and awaited assistance. While the stowaways threatened them from outside the bridge, the crew filmed the men making “cut-throat” gestures, brandishing metal poles and taking up fighting stances.
14 hours later, a team from the Royal Marines Special Boat Service’s X Squadron abseiled onto the Grande Tema’s deck from helicopters and arrested the stowaways. No one was injured in the 25-minute operation to regain control of the ship.
“For me, these guys could be terrorists, Boko Haram, I don’t know,” Capt. Antonio Raggi told the jury. “They come on board, they break the safety, the security of the vessel.”
The charge of affray is 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. Popoola was also convicted of making a threat to kill.