ISWAN’s Regional Programme provides humanitarian support to seafarers and their families in South and South East Asia and Nigeria. When the Nigerian Navy arrested a crew on their vessel for illegal bunkering, ISWAN supported the seafarers during their time in prison and after their release.
In March 2015, a crew of five Filipino and four Bangladeshi seafarers were arrested on their vessel by the Nigerian Navy. The captain was reportedly interrogated and the crew was accused of smuggling the cargo due to a lack of documentation on board.
The crew was arraigned in Lagos in June 2015 and charged with illegal bunkering. Some of the crew members were new to the vessel and had not been paid any of their wages due to the arrest. In March 2016, the seafarers were sentenced to five years’ imprisonment in a prison in Lagos.
The Bangladeshi seafarers were released and repatriated a couple of months later with the assistance of the Bangladeshi government and a number of international organisations, but the Filipino seafarers remained in prison. They were abandoned by the ship owner and manning agent, and were unable to financially support their families who were going into debt in their absence. Some of the seafarers’ children had to stop studying due to lack of money.
ISWAN’s Regional Representative in Nigeria, Afusat Eke, visited the remaining seafarers, one of whom was chronically ill, in prison to provide food, emotional support and medicine with the assistance of the President of Filipino community in Nigeria. In the meantime, ISWAN’s SeafarerHelp team and Regional Director in the Philippines and South East Asia, Jun Pablo, contacted the Philippine Embassy, trade unions and other agencies to arrange further assistance for the seafarers. Back at home in the Philippines, Jun also supported the seafarers’ families through numerous visits and phone calls. One of the seafarers said to SeafarerHelp: ‘I just want to thank your office for trying to help us in our needs [especially] Ms. Afusat who come to visit us today and gave us some foods. I'm so appreciative for the efforts and continuously trying your best to help us.’
Finally, in July 2018 and after three years and four months in prison, the five Filipino seafarers were released to members of the Philippine Embassy. The seafarers called ISWAN’s Afusat Eke in Nigeria to let her know, and Afusat later visited them at their hotel to listen to their concerns and provide counselling and emotional support after their traumatic ordeal.
The seafarers eventually returned home to the Philippines where ISWAN continued to support them and, at the time of writing, is helping them apply to the Seafarers Emergency Fund for financial assistance. The seafarers hope to go back to sea again soon.
If you are a seafarer or family member of a seafarer and need assistance or support, you can contact our free, confidential, 24-hour helpline, SeafarerHelp, at any time – all our contact details can be found at seafarerhelp.org. We will refer you to a member of our Regional Team if there is someone in your region who can help. Make a note of our details or save them on your phone in case you ever need our help or support.