Captain threw pair of stowaways overboard into shark-infested Indian Ocean


A captain and his crew pleaded guilty to attempted murder after throwing two terrified stowaways into a shark infested ocean to avoid catching coronavirus from them.

Skipper Cui Rongli watched as his crew built a makeshift raft roping together sealed plastic drums and plywood then stopped his ship to dump the petrified pair overboard in waters off South Africa.

Distraught Amiri Salamu, 20 and Hassani Rajabu, 30, were given just a life jacket and two bottles of water each and told which way to paddle with their hands to reach the nearest land.

The MV Top Grace bulk carrier which police intercepted, seen here coming into dock in Richards Bay, South Africa, to arrest the captain and crew who have now been charged with attempted murder after casting two stowaways adrift in the Indian Ocean

The two life jackets the stowaways were given along with a couple of bottles of water as they were placed in a makeshift raft

The two life jackets the stowaways were given along with a couple of bottles of water as they were placed in a makeshift raft

The two Tanzanian stowaways cast adrift at sea being taken by ambulance to hospital  (both centre in green and red overalls) at Zinkwazi Beach in KwaZulu-Natal Province, South Africa

The two Tanzanian stowaways cast adrift at sea being taken by ambulance to hospital  (both centre in green and red overalls) at Zinkwazi Beach in KwaZulu-Natal Province, South Africa

With no food to eat and at the mercy of the wind and sea currents they were cast adrift on the high seas fearing being swamped by the waves or their raft falling apart at any moment.

Three days and two nights later the Tanzanian stowaways were washed up exhausted onto a tourist beach at dusk on the KwaZulu-Natal coast of South Africa 50 miles north of Durban.

They had drifted through one of the most shark infested areas of the North Coast by the Tugela River mouth where Great Whites, Hammerheads, Tiger and Bull Sharks all gather.

They had been buffeted by strong winds but sea currents had carried their flimsy raft to the safety of Zinkwazi Beach, although they had to swim the last stretch over a rocky reef.

Shocked locals saw them pair wading through the surf and paramedics said they were suffering from hypothermia, thirst and hunger having been given no food and little water to survive.

Zinkwazi Beach where the two stowaways were washed up half way between Durban and Richards Bay on the KwaZulu-Natal coast

Zinkwazi Beach where the two stowaways were washed up half way between Durban and Richards Bay on the KwaZulu-Natal coast

The MV Top Grace bulk carrier which police intercepted as it is seen here coming into dock in Richards Bay, South Africa, to arrest the captain and crew who have now been charged with attempted murder after casting two stowaways adrift in the Indian Ocean. The police are seen heading towards the ship

The MV Top Grace bulk carrier which police intercepted as it is seen here coming into dock in Richards Bay, South Africa, to arrest the captain and crew who have now been charged with attempted murder after casting two stowaways adrift in the Indian Ocean. The police are seen heading towards the ship

The police launch sent to intercept the MV Top Grace at Richards Bay, South Africa. The 600 foot long ship was impounded when it docked at Richards Bay further north up the coast where a police launch took officers on board who arrested the ship's captain

The police launch sent to intercept the MV Top Grace at Richards Bay, South Africa. The 600 foot long ship was impounded when it docked at Richards Bay further north up the coast where a police launch took officers on board who arrested the ship’s captain

When the South African Maritime Safety Agency received news of the stowaways being abandoned to their fate in the Indian Ocean they contacted the bulk carrier MV Top Grace by radio.

The castaways had remembered the name of the ship and that the crew were ‘Chinese looking’.

The 600 foot long ship was impounded when it docked at Richards Bay further north up the coast where a police launch took officers on board who arrested the ship’s captain.

The Chinese skipper and six crew Lin Xinyong, Zou Yongxian, Tan Yian, Xie Wenbin, Xu Kun and Mu Yong all admitted attempted murder at Durban Magistrates Court yesterday.

The Master of the ship Captain Rongli was fined £4350 and each of the crewmen £2175 in a plea bargain agreement which was ratified by the magistrate Garth Davis.

The MV Top Grace bulk carrier which police intercepted as it is seen here coming into dock in Richards Bay, South Africa, to arrest the captain and crew who have now been charged with attempted murder after casting two stowaways adrift in the Indian Ocean

The MV Top Grace bulk carrier which police intercepted as it is seen here coming into dock in Richards Bay, South Africa, to arrest the captain and crew who have now been charged with attempted murder after casting two stowaways adrift in the Indian Ocean

Captain Rongli was fined a further £2175 for misconduct and £435 for not reporting the stowaways. He was told he would be sent to prison for four years if he did not pay up.

Prosecutor Vishalan Moodley said the seven men pleaded guilty in terms of ‘dolus eventualis’ in that they knew there was a possibility the stowaways might die or perish at sea.

The court heard the bulk carrier built in 2016 arrived at Durban harbour from Singapore and while at anchor the two Tanzanian’s climbed the anchor chain and stowed away.

The 35,000 ton Hong Kong registered ship sailed on March 26 and the following day when 25 miles out to sea to the two stowaways ‘popped up’ on the main deck.

The magistrate heard that the stowaways refused to give their nationality but were given food and water and isolated in a room while the crew worked out what to do.

National Police Authority spokesperson Natasha Cara said: ‘The accused were 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 so were put in a separate room as their Covid-19 status was unknown and there was a fear by the crew about the virus’.

File image of a Great White Shark in the Indian Ocean. The stowaways had drifted through one of the most shark infested areas of the North Coast by the Tugela River mouth where Great Whites, Hammerheads, Tiger and Bull Sharks all gather

File image of a Great White Shark in the Indian Ocean. The stowaways had drifted through one of the most shark infested areas of the North Coast by the Tugela River mouth where Great Whites, Hammerheads, Tiger and Bull Sharks all gather

The court was told the following day a decision was taken to throw them off the ship and the crew built a makeshift raft made out of plastic drums and plywood and rope.

The MV Top Grace sailed to within three nautical miles off the South African coast and lowered the pair by ladder into the flimsy raft rocking in the seas 60 feet below.

The NPA spokesman added: ‘They provided the men with life jackets and the crew acted in a threatening manner banging the vessel’s decks as they descended into the raft.

‘The ship pulled away leaving them once they were on board the raft. The accused admitted that their actions could have resulted in serious injury and even the loss of life’ she said.

It was said the coast was visible to the two men who drifted for three days and two nights before they washed up on the tourist beach having avoided deadly man eating sharks.

Durban Magistrates Court. The court was told the following day a decision was taken to throw them off the ship and the crew built a makeshift raft made out of plastic drums and plywood and rope

Durban Magistrates Court. The court was told the following day a decision was taken to throw them off the ship and the crew built a makeshift raft made out of plastic drums and plywood and rope

Defence advocate Willie Lombard said in mitigation Salumu and Rajabu had been given life jackets and water and could see land when cast adrift and suffered no external injuries.

He said: ‘There were many mitigating factors and if the crew had wanted to be cruel they could have dropped them in the high seas much further out without life jackets’.

The stowaways have been detained by the South African immigration authorities and are awaiting the results of Covid-19 tests and still face possible criminal charges.

It is believed the Chinese captain and crew have paid their fines and are free to sail back to China having arrived in Durban last month with a full cargo from Singapore.

Under Maritime Law any stowaways must not be mistreated and must be landed at the next port of call and the shipping company is responsible for all the costs of repatriation.

 

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