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Asian refugee crisis: trafficked migrants held off Thailand in vast ‘camp boats’

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… As China executes teacher for sexually abusing 26 girls

Thousands of Bangladeshi and ethnic Rohingya migrants are being held in huge cargo ships by human traffickers in the Andaman Sea, according to testimony collected from survivors.

First-hand accounts indicate that trafficking syndicates trading in vulnerable migrants have responded to a recent crackdown by authorities in Thailand and Malaysia by holding their victims in large vessels close to international waters, where they are ransomed for their freedom in return for money from relatives.

The practice, which has been accompanied by violence and other abuses, mirrors the fate of victims held in camps recently discovered by officials in southern Thailand and Malaysia, where dozens of mass graves have yet to be unearthed according to survivors who spoke to the Arakan Project. There is one crucial difference, however: the bodies of the dead were dumped overboard into the ocean, with no hope of being recovered.

“The traffickers will not abandon their business, so they have now started putting ‘camps’ in the sea,” said Chris Lewa, founder of the Arakan Project. “Since the end of February, we now have thousands and thousands of people stuck at sea, and I think we already have more death than even at the camps in Thailand.”

A survivor from one ship who agreed to be interviewed on condition of anonymity described an ordeal of violence and sexual abuse accompanied by demands for ransom payment. She described a ship containing “six storeys in total: three above deck, three below. The men and women were separated.”

As a result of this arrangement, the women on the ship were targeted by sexually predatory crew members, she claimed. A girl “around 12 years old” who was “very beautiful” was taken to a room by a group of men and was “not released from the ship”, she recalled.

Other women onboard were subjected to similar treatment, she said, adding: “If the women did not go, they were beaten.”

Recalling other aspects of her ordeal onboard the vessel, the woman said: “Food rations were not enough … when I asked for more, they beat me.” She was accompanied by her three children during her time on the ship.

In other testimony collected by the Arakan Project, a 19-year-old Rohingya man from Burma’s northern Rakhine state described his journey on one of the boats last year. After nine days at sea on a Burmese cattle ship, his vessel joined with a bigger boat not far from the Thai shore. He estimated there were more than 1,000 people onboard, roughly one-third of whom were women.

“I spent 14 days on this ship. Three days after we were transferred, three smugglers arrived from Malaysia and boarded our ship. They carried mobile phones. They first asked who had phone numbers and, one by one, we started calling our relatives. Those [who did not provide] phone numbers were beaten,” he recalled.

“The smugglers ordered passengers to beat them with engine chains wrapped in plastic and plastic pipes with something heavy inside. Even those with phone numbers were beaten,” he said.

The abuses continued until families sent money, after which survivors were taken to shore by small fishing boats.

“Before I left, I witnessed three men who had become paralysed and one dead body was thrown overboard,” he added.

A survivor from northern Thailand who spoke to the Guardian by phone described similar treatment. “I stayed on the boats for three months from February this year until April. I remember people were beaten every day, sometimes two or three times a day. Those who could not pay were beaten.

“I think there were more than one-and-a-half thousand people on that boat,” he estimated.

Abdul Kalam, an adviser to Thai police, told Channel 4 News that refugees were being taken offshore for months. He said that a tanker ship has been deployed as a camp. “It has been out for two months and is moving all the time. The ship has got 2,000 people on it. The traffickers are relocating their camps because so much money is involved.”

The testimony of survivors has been reinforced by the accounts of Rohingya helped to shore by fishermen in north and east Aceh, Indonesia, after being stranded at sea. Visitors to the tightly-controlled camps containing the refugees heard multiple accounts of the use of large “camp boats” at sea.

“I have just spent a week in Aceh working in three camps with my local humanitarian team, and we have conducted interviews with dozens of Rohingya and Bangladeshi survivors. Many of them spoke of being held in offshore camps on big ships in international waters,” said Lilianne Fan, a research associate with the Humanitarian Policy Group.

Htike Htike, co-founder of the Bangkok-based Equal Harmony Together project, who also went to Aceh, offered a similar account. “ I conducted 30 interviews in Aceh. During that time many people spoke of the use of ‘camp boats’ where they were forced to call their family to ask for money,” she said.

A 15-year-old survivor recalled seeing 34 people die from sickness during a 40-day stay onboard one of the huge camp vessels. “Crew members threw the dead bodies overboard,” he said.

He even saw the dead from other ships. “About the 20th day of waiting in the Andaman Sea, another two cargo boats arrived. They were smaller than our boat and they anchored near our boat … I saw people who had died in those two boats: eight bodies were thrown overboard from one boat and the following day another 13 bodies were thrown from the other boat. I do not know how they had died.”

Meanwhile, China’s top court said it has executed a primary school teacher found guilty of raping or sexually abusing 26 girls.

Li Jishun had committed the crimes between 2011 and 2012 while teaching at a village school in Gansu province.

He preyed on pupils aged 4 to 11 who were “young and timid”, according to a statement by the Supreme People’s Court reported by local media.

It said there have been more than 7,000 child sex abuse cases in recent years and that the trend is on the rise.

‘Grave threat’

Li had raped 21 of his victims and sexually abused the other five in classrooms, dormitories, and the forest surrounding the village near Wushan town.

The statement said that some of his victims had been raped or abused more than once. It made no mention of how he was caught.

But it said that the Gansu court had found him “a grave threat to society” and noted that he had committed the crimes within just one year.

“The Supreme People’s Court thus believes that it was appropriate for Li Jishun to be executed,” it said.

Local media ran the story with caricatures of the man depicting him as a wolf gobbling up children.

His sentencing was met with widespread approval on China’s microblogging platform Weibo, with many expressing shock at the youth of his victims.

“Four years old? I can’t believe it,” said one. “A death sentence is too good for this man,” wrote another commenter.

In a rare disclosure of abuse statistics, the Supreme People’s Court told local media that the courts heard 7,145 cases of child sexual abuse between 2012 and 2014.

The figures showed that the number of cases went up by about 40% during those years.

The Guardian Uk  with additional reports from the BBC

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WAIVER CESSATION: Igbokwe urges NIMASA to evolve stronger collaboration with Ships owners

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…Stresses the need for timely disbursement of N44.6billion CVFF***

Highly revered Nigerian Maritime Lawyer, and Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Mike Igbokwe has urged the Nigeria Maritime Administration and safety Agency (NIMASA) to partner with ship owners and relevant association in the industry to evolving a more vibrant merchant shipping and cabotage trade regime.

Igbokwe gave the counsel during his paper presentation at the just concluded two-day stakeholders’ meeting on Cabotage waiver restrictions, organized by NIMASA.

“NIMASA and shipowners should develop merchant shipping including cabotage trade. A good start is to partner with the relevant associations in this field, such as the Nigeria Indigenous Shipowners Association (NISA), Shipowners Association of Nigeria (SOAN), Oil Trade Group & Maritime Trade Group of the Nigerian Association of Chambers of Commerce, Industry, Mines and Agriculture (NACCIMA).

“A cursory look at their vision, mission and objectives, show that they are willing to improve the maritime sector, not just for their members but for stakeholders in the maritime economy and the country”.

Adding that it is of utmost importance for NIMASA to have a through briefing and regular consultation with ships owners, in other to have insight on the challenges facing the ship owners.

“It is of utmost importance for NIMASA to have a thorough briefing and regular consultations with shipowners, to receive insight on the challenges they face, and how the Agency can assist in solving them and encouraging them to invest and participate in the maritime sector, for its development. 

“NIMASA should see them as partners in progress because, if they do not invest in buying ships and registering them in Nigeria, there would be no Nigerian-owned ships in its Register and NIMASA would be unable to discharge its main objective.

The Maritime lawyer also urged NIMASA  to disburse the Cabotage Vessel Financing Fund (CVFF)that currently stands at about N44.6 billion.

“Lest it be forgotten, what is on the lips of almost every shipowner, is the need to disburse the Cabotage Vessel Financing Fund (the CVFF’), which was established by the Coastal and Inland Shipping Act, 2003. It was established to promote the development of indigenous ship acquisition capacity, by providing financial assistance to Nigerian citizens and shipping companies wholly owned by Nigerian operating in the domestic coastal shipping, to purchase and maintain vessels and build shipping capacity. 

“Research shows that this fund has grown to about N44.6billion; and that due to its non-disbursement, financial institutions have repossessed some vessels, resulting in a 43% reduction of the number of operational indigenous shipping companies in Nigeria, in the past few years. 

“Without beating around the bush, to promote indigenous maritime development, prompt action must be taken by NIMASA to commence the disbursement of this Fund to qualified shipowners pursuant to the extant Cabotage Vessel Financing Fund (“CVFF”) Regulations.

Mike Igbokwe (SAN)

“Indeed, as part of its statutory functions, NIMASA is to enforce and administer the provisions of the Cabotage Act 2003 and develop and implement policies and programmes which will facilitate the growth of local capacity in ownership, manning and construction of ships and other maritime infrastructure. Disbursing the CVFF is one of the ways NIMASA can fulfill this mandate.

“To assist in this task, there must be collaboration between NIMASA, financial institutions, the Minister of Transportation, as contained in the CVFF Regulations that are yet to be implemented”, the legal guru highlighted further. 

He urged the agency to create the right environment for its stakeholders to build on and engender the needed capacities to fill the gaps; and ensure that steps are being taken to solve the challenges being faced by stakeholders.

“Lastly, which is the main reason why we are all here, cessation of ministerial waivers on some cabotage requirements, which I believe is worth applause in favour of NIMASA. 

“This is because it appears that the readiness to obtain/grant waivers had made some of the vessels and their owners engaged in cabotage trade, to become complacent and indifferent in quickly ensuring that they updated their capacities, so as not to require the waivers. 

“The cessation of waivers is a way of forcing the relevant stakeholders of the maritime sector, to find workable solutions within, for maritime development and fill the gaps in the local capacities in 100% Nigerian crewing, ship ownership, and ship building, that had necessitated the existence of the waivers since about 15 years ago, when the Cabotage Act came into being. 

“However, NIMASA must ensure that the right environment is provided for its stakeholders to build and possess the needed capacities to fill the gaps; and ensure that steps are being taken to solve the challenges being faced by stakeholders. Or better still, that they are solved within the next 5 years of its intention to stop granting waivers”, he further explained. 

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Breaking News: The Funeral Rites of Matriarch C. Ogbeifun is Live

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The Burial Ceremony of Engr. Greg Ogbeifun’s mother is live. Watch on the website: www.maritimefirstnewspaper.com and on Youtube: Maritimefirst Newspaper.

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Wind Farm Vessel Collision Leaves 15 Injured

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…As Valles Steamship Orders 112,000 dwt Tanker from South Korea***

A wind farm supply vessel and a cargo ship collided in the Baltic Sea on Tuesday leaving 15 injured.

The Cyprus-flagged 80-meter general cargo ship Raba collided with Denmark-flagged 31-meter wind farm supply vessel World Bora near Rügen Island, about three nautical miles off the coast of Hamburg. 

Many of those injured were service engineers on the wind farm vessel, and 10 were seriously hurt. 

They were headed to Iberdrola’s 350MW Wikinger wind farm. Nine of the people on board the World Bora were employees of Siemens Gamesa, two were employees of Iberdrola and four were crew.

The cause of the incident is not yet known, and no pollution has been reported.

After the collision, the two ships were able to proceed to Rügen under their own power, and the injured were then taken to hospital. 

Lifeboat crews from the German Maritime Search and Rescue Service tended to them prior to their transport to hospital via ambulance and helicopter.

“Iberdrola wishes to thank the rescue services for their diligence and professionalism,” the company said in a statement.

In the meantime, the Hong Kong-based shipowner Valles Steamship has ordered a new 112,000 dwt crude oil tanker from South Korea’s Sumitomo Heavy Industries Marine & Engineering.

Sumitomo is to deliver the Aframax to Valles Steamship by the end of 2020, according to data provided by Asiasis.

The newbuild Aframax will join seven other Aframaxes in Valles Steamship’s fleet. Other ships operated by the company include Panamax bulkers and medium and long range product tankers.

The company’s most-recently delivered unit is the 114,426 dwt Aframax tanker Seagalaxy. The naming and delivery of the tanker took place in February 2019, at Namura Shipbuilding’s yard in Japan.

Maritime Executive with additional report from World Maritime News

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