Alleged child trafficking ship docks in Benin

3 years ago

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1. Ambulance drives past
2. MS Ramatou Baba Moussa. Social Protection Minister
3. LS ship in darkness
4. MS Ship, zoom to name “Etireno”
5. Zoom out to MS ship
6. MS ship, different angle
7. People walk past on quay
8. People on deck of ship
9. Red cross workers on quay
10. Women passengers, some with children
11. Various, more passengers
12. SOUNDBITE (French) Ramatou Baba Moussa. Social Protection Minister “The only boat I’ve been speaking about is the boat with the 250 trafficked children aboard. I don’t think this boat exists anywhere. Etireno (name of the boat) is here in Benin today with 139 passengers on board, passengers of all different nationalities”
13. Soldiers escort people from ship

STORYLINE:

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Officials in Benin Tuesday boarded a ship suspected of trafficking child slaves after the vessel docked in the country’s commercial capital, but there was no sign of the
scores of children the vessel was thought to have been carrying.

Social Protection Minister Ramatou Baba Moussa said the Nigerian-registered MV Etireno, which U.N. and local officials originally thought left Benin with the children, may have been confused with a second ship, whose name and current location remain a mystery.

She said the Etireno did not have any unaccompanied minors on board.

U.N. officials in Cotonou earlier speculated whether the Etireno’s captain, a Nigerian with a criminal past, could have thrown his human cargo overboard. After the ship’s arrival, the same officials said the truth would probably not be known until the government finished an investigation, including interviews with the passengers on board.

“I don’t know what to think,” said Nicolas Pron, a senior official with the U.N. children’s fund in Benin. “My main concern is that the kids are here and safe, and we will hear if that is the case.”

Benin and U.N. officials said port authorities in both Gabon and Cameroon had reported turning away a ship with anything from 100-250 child slaves aboard.

The Etireno, a white, 200-foot (60-meter) -long ferry, pulled into Cotonou port shortly after 1 a.m. (1200 GMT), as Cabinet ministers, police, soldiers, journalists and U.N. employees crowded the dock side.

Dozens of women, a few men and a handful of children could be seen through the ship’s passenger cabin windows, from which laundry was hanging inside, as the boat’s Nigerian crew barked orders in English.

Benin officials said they still needed to speak to the passengers and crew before they could explain the confusion.

Journalists who boarded the ship found nervous and exhausted passengers who said no child slaves had been on the ship. Some appeared frightened.

The vessel’s 40-year-old Nigerian captain, Lawrence Onome, echoed their denials.

“I have not committed any offense that will warrant my arrest,” Onome said. “I am not into child slavery, they can’t prove it. It is one thing to say and one thing to prove.”

Passengers and crew said the boat left Benin March 27 and arrived in Gabon’s capital, Libreville, April 2.

But authorities in Gabon detained the boat and its passengers, who were taken onshore by canoes, for four days apparently because they did not have proper documents.

Some passengers were beaten by Gabonese police. “They whipped me here,” said 28-year-old Sofia Yawa, a Benin citizen, pointing to her breasts. “And they took my money.”

The boat left April 6 for Douala in Cameroon, where it arrived April 12. Contrary to earlier reports the ship was a rusting decrepit hulk, the Etireno appeared to be freshly painted, with the signs of another name “NORDBY” still visible underneath.

The ship’s captain said the name was changed in 1999 but admitted he didn’t have documents to prove it.

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