Nigerian authorities have so far rescued 29 survivors, recovering nine corpses from a wooden boat allegedly carrying scores of trafficked immigrants that sank last Friday about 40 nautical miles off Nigeria’s South-East coast on her way to Gabon, agency reports quoted the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) as stating in Abuja yesterday.
At least 45 people drowned, according a local doctor who said he received the bodies.
Initial reports from traders at the dock from where the boat departed suggested there were 166 people on board, but NEMA spokesman Yushua Shuaibsaid yesterday there were actually 128 people, based on the boat’s manifest.
“The boat originated from Benin (Republic). Security agencies are still investigating the allegations that the boat was involved in human trafficking,” he said. “The rescue operation is still ongoing.”
He said that NEMA was only aware of nine bodies recovered so far.
According to him, the agency is continuing with rescue efforts.
Survivors told Reuters on Wednesday the boat had been carrying illegal immigrants trafficked to Gabon, an oil producing state of around 1.5 million people that enjoys relative prosperity by west and central African standards.
Trafficking routes from West Africa to Europe through Spain’s Canary Islands are well known, but Gabon is also top destination for immigrants seeking a better life.
In July 2008, the bodies of 37 suspected illegal migrants were found dead on the seafront of Gabon’s capital Libreville, after a boat capsized taking the same Nigeria to Gabon route.
Meanwhile, a press release dated March 20, 2013, and signed by the “Head of Corporate Affairs”, Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), Hajiya Lami Tumaka, stated: “The Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency has rescued 29 survivors after a wooden passenger boat identified as MV Sonny capsized 40 nautical miles offshore Calabar, Cross River State.
“The wooden craft which departed the Ebughu Jetty, Mbo Local Government Area in Akwa Ibom State capsized at about 2200 hours on the 16thMarch, 2013.
“The survivors who include 8 Nigerians and 19 foreign nationals are undergoing medical examinations and further attention at Calabar and Oron based hospitals.
“Two survivors with severe burns are receiving medical attention at the Nigerian Maritime Academy Medical Centre, Oron.
“The survivors are Kareem Seradeke, a 20 year old male Burkinabe and, Adel Djanoka, a 24 year-old female Togolese.
“Also receiving medical treatment at Calabar, Cross River State are two persons with varying degree of injuries.
“The ill fated boat with no manifest had unconfirmed number of passengers and crew on her voyage to Gabon.
“The wooden boat had called at a remote island off Oron where passengers apparently embarked.
Preliminary rescue reports indicate that the survivors were rescued by a team of Addax Petroleum and Kaztec Engineering Limited who initiated on-site salvage of the passengers.
“Nine recovered bodies have been deposited at the Calabar Teaching Hospital.
“Information from one of the survivors confirmed that the incident occurred after the vessel hit an under-water object. This resulted in the boat taking-in of water that led to eventual capsize of the boat.
The Agency confirms that MV Sonny is not a Nigerian flagged boat.
“Another surviving passenger said the wooden boat departed the remote island off Oron under darkness to evade security agencies.
“The Agency commends the timely response of the Nigerian Immigration Service, Addax Petroleum and Kaztec Engineering Nigeria Limited in the rescue exercise.
“Full investigation reports in respect of the accident is expected at the completion of the rescue operations by the Agency.”
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