Chinese crew guilty of throwing Tanzanian stowaways overboard

The seven Chinese nationals have been convicted of attempted murder

17 April 2020 - 20:18 By Orrin Singh and Tania Broughton
The Top Grace entering the port of Richards Bay
The Top Grace entering the port of Richards Bay
Image: Supplied

The captain and six crew members of a Panama-registered bulk carrier pleaded guilty to charges of attempted murder on Friday, in connection with an incident in which they forced two stowaways overboard and left them to drift in a home-made raft off the KwaZulu-Natal north coast.

In terms of a plea bargain agreement, ratified by Durban regional court magistrate Garth Davis, the captain of MV Top Grace, Ciy Ronguli, paid a fine of R100,000 and the crew R50,000 each.

They are named as Lin Xinyong, Zou Yongxian, Tan Yian, Xuie Wenbin, Xu Kun and Mu Yong.

They were all charged with attempted murder and pleaded guilty in terms of “dolus eventualis” in that they knew or ought to have reasonably foreseen the possibility that the Tanzanian nationals might die or perish at sea.

The captain also pleaded guilty to two charges under maritime laws, that he failed to report and safeguard the stowaways.

In the written agreement, which was put before the court, the seamen said the ship had entered Durban harbour on March 23 and offloaded cargo. It left three days later, destination unknown while waiting instructions for its next job, and headed up the KwaZulu-Natal north coast.

The following day, the two stowaways “popped up” on the deck.

They are named in the plea as Tanzanian nationals Amiri Salamu, 20, and Hassani Rajabu, 30.

At that time neither disclosed their nationality. The crew said they were given food and water and isolated in a room. They claimed they refused to wear masks and were unhappy when they learnt that the ship, at that stage, had no fixed destination.

At that stage the ship was 55 nautical miles (102km) from Durban harbour and 22 nautical miles (41km) out to sea.

NPA spokesperson Natasha Cara said: “The accused became wary of the men and asked them to wear face masks in light of the Covid-19 pandemic. The men refused to wear the face masks. They gave them food and water, and put them into a separate room, as they did not know their Covid-19 status and feared for the rest of the crew. The two men demanded to know the vessel’s destination.”

The following day a decision was taken that they must be removed from the ship. The crew built a raft from sticks, plastic sealed drums and plywood. The ship sailed three nautical miles (5.5km) off the coast near Zinkwazi and the pair were lowered down on a ladder.

As they went down, the ladder moved and they attempted to climb back up.

The crew started banging with sticks and threatened them to go back down. One of the stowaways was forcibly moved to another ladder.

They spent two days adrift before eventually washing up on Zinkwazi beach.

In mitigation of sentence, defence Advocate Willie Lombard said Salumu and Rajabu had been given life jackets and water and the crew could see land.

He referred to medical reports which showed that Rajabu had no external injuries and Salamu had some swelling on his ankle.

Lombard argued that there were many mitigating facts - and that "if we wanted to be cruel we would  have dropped them in high seas, with no life jackets”.

The stowaways are presently being detained while their status in South Africa is being investigated and if they will be charged with any criminal offences.