Master of Grande Tema locked up stowaways because he feared they were terrorists

Antonio Raggi, master of RoRo cargo ship Grande Tema (IMO 9672090), locked four stowaways in quarantine after fearing they were Boko Haram terrorists, a court at the Old Bailey was told this week.

The four men, from Nigeria and Liberia, had stowed themselves away on the vessel, whose destination was Tilbury. England. They allegedly armed themselves with metal poles and threw faeces onboard the ship in the Thames Estuary in December 2018.

Samuel Jolumi, 27, Ishola Sunday, 28, Toheeb Popoola, 27, and Joberto McGee, 20, deny attempting to hijack the ship.

Raggi told the court he was worried for his crew’s safety. The men also deny making threats to kill and affray. They had been discovered six days into the voyage from Lagos, Nigeria.

Raggi told the court: “For me, these guys could be terrorists, Boko Haram, I don’t know. They come on board, they break the safety, the security of the vessel. My problem is if these guys have put something in a part of the vessel and after are going to come and get weapons.”

Raggi said that the men were discovered near the Canary islands in a “very dangerous” lower area of the ship. He said the only safe living area for them was the quarantine room, Raggi emphasized to the court that a ship’s master effectively acts as the police under Italian rules in international waters.

He also said that Italian legislation forbad weapons onboard, meaning his crew were unarmed.

After five days in quarantine the men allegedly broke free when the vessel was in the Thames Estuary and ran amok, arming themselves, making throat-cutting gestures and hurling faeces as most of the crew retreated to the safety of the bridge. They demanded that the master take the vessel closer to shore.

The 14-hour stand-off was brought to an end when special forces swooped under the cover of darkness late on December 21st. Special Boat Service (SBS) operatives from Sabre Squadron fast-roped from helicopters on to the ship. The operation lasted around 25 minutes and no one on board was injured. The vessel had sailed from Lagos on December 10th and arrived at Tilbury on December 22nd. The trial continues.

2014-built, Italy-flagged, 71,543 gt Grande Tema is owned and ISM managed by Grimaldi Deep Sea Spa of Naples, Italy. Commercial manager is Grimaldi Group SpA of the same address. It is entered with North of England on behalf of Grimaldi Deep Sea SpA. It is entered for H&M with Norwegian Hull Club on behalf of Grimaldi Group SpA. Gard holds a subscription position.