SAMSA releases stowaway ship with USD8,000 fine

SAMSA headquarters in South Africa. Credit: SAMSA

The vessel detained by the South African Maritime Safety Authority (SAMSA) was released after the owners paid a USD8,000 fine on 23 April 2020, following an incident where the crew threw two stowaways overboard.

The master and the crew, all Chinese nationals, of the Panama-flagged Top Grace pleaded guilty at Durban Magistrates Court to the attempted murder of the two Tanzanian nationals, Amiri Salamu, 20; and Hassani Rajabu, 30. The pair were cast adrift on a makeshift raft off the South African coast by the crew, and washed ashore two days later.

 The court sentenced the captain to a total of five years and three months of prison or a USD8,449 fine on that charge, as well as failing to report stowaways. The sentence was suspended for five years on condition that he is not convicted of the same offense during the suspension. The six crew members were each fined USD2,640, which they have paid.

With the conclusion of the criminal case, SAMSA was able to proceed with its own investigation. The vessel was detained by the safety authority in terms of section 9(3) of the Marine Traffic Act for breaking innocent passage and causing prejudice to the peace, good order, and/or security of the republic. Innocent passage is a concept in the law of the sea that allows a vessel to pass through the territorial waters of another state, subject to certain conditions.

Under the Marine Traffic Act, the safety authority had seven days following the detention to complete the investigation. SAMSA appointed maritime experts from the law firm, Bowmans, to assist its surveyors with the investigation. This included data retrieval and analysis, including retrieval of deleted items, and a team of five interpreters was employed to interpret Mandarin texts into English from the predominantly Chinese crew.

Following a thorough assessment of the findings, SAMSA concluded that any further action against the vessel would not be warranted, save for the payment of a detention fine. The fine was paid on 23 April and the detention of the vessel immediately lifted.

Salamu and Rajabu have been detained by South African authorities until their legal status in the country is ascertained.