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Court orders arrest of vessels

THE High Court of Solomon Islands yesterday morning ordered the arrest of two vessels owned by a Malaysian following their arrival in the country on the 10th of July.

The arrest relates to a 2008 incident where eight local men working in the vessels were taken to Malaysia and held against their wish for up to a year in what could be described as a case of human trafficking.

The Vessels are owned by Akong Ngui, he is the Director of Chayema International Ltd (locally registered company) and is from Sibu City in Malaysia.

Accounts from one the victims’ states, Mr Ngui made the local seamen take the vessels to Malaysia and illegally forced them to stay there for a period of 10 months from March to December 2008.

According to a sworn statement by John Tenda one of those trafficked, Mr Ngui was engaged in logging activity in the country before fleeing in 2008, after the local seamen reported the case towards the end of the year.

Mr Ngui operated in the country as a logging contractor under his registered company Chayema International Ltd before 2008, the statement reads

However, the company name became inactive following his absence over the last decade, although his colleagues Meu Hing Ngui and Moh Chai Ngui are still hiding in the country.

According to Mr Tenda they began their voyage on 5th February 2008, at 13:30hrs from Ranadi to Merusu in the Western Province.

He said their job as promised by Mr Ngui is to get the tug boat and scrap metals on board to Malaysia and if necessary have the boat go into a slipway before they can return back by air.

Mr Tenda said their international voyage begun on 23th February 2008, departing Noro port at 09:30hrs as they headed for Sibu in Malaysia.

He said the voyage took about19 days as they arrived in Malaysia on March 7, 2008.

Mr Tenda said following their arrival they unloaded the scrap onboard, on 13th April Mr Ngui asked them to take the ship to a slipway for repair.

“This took us two solid weeks. Thereafter we anchored and wait for our return to Solomon Islands by air. We slept and stayed on board the ship all this time until July 25th, 2008.

“On the 25th of July, 2008 the defendant told us to drop off some machines at the state of Saudakan (a different state from Sibu),” he said.

Mr Tenda said he began to argue with Mr Ngui for disrespecting the agreement they made for only taking the vessel with scrap to Malaysia and returning home by air.

Mr Ngui then swore at Mr Tenda and demanded they work for him in Malaysia for a year.

Mr Tenda said he also told them that they will only be paid in Malaysian money, they must work for him.

According to Mr Tenda’s statement there were alot of activities that they were forced to engage in during their time there until they luckily escaped with the help of the Governments of both the Solomon Islands and Malaysia.

He said they were forced to stay and work in Malaysia and other Asian countries from March 7, 2008 to 13th December 2008 without work and resident permits.

Mr Tenda said they arrived back in Honiara on 13th December 2008.

He further explained that shortly after they arrived he tried to contact the company’s consultant Ms Fredau Tau, now honorable about the company and she refused to disclose anything about the company.,

He reported the case and his solicitor tried to identify the vessels and see how they can initiate proceedings on the relevant jurisdiction but all were unsuccessful.

However, Mr Tenda said for the last 10 years he knew nothing about Mr Ngui until the 10th July 2017, when he saw the two vessels seagull 9 and seagull 10 (landing craft and tag boat) berthing at Port Cruz international wharf.

He then followed-up the case with Whitlam Togamae Lawyers and they presented the case to the High Court of Solomon Islands.

The first statement they received from High Court is a warrant of arrest for the two vessels

It reads “We hereby command you to arrest the Ships MV Seagull 9 and MV Seagull 10 of the port of Honiara, Solomon Islands and keep the same under safe arrest until you shall receive payment in the amount of the maritime lien, that being USD$222, 600 and SBD$156, 792.90 cents or until further orders from us.”

The High Court order made yesterday reads “Upon hearing Whitlam K Togamae, Counsel for the Applicants and considering the applicants for Arrest Warrant and Sworn statement in support of John Tenda undertaking as to damage filed 11 July 2017, I hereby Order,

1, Condonation by the court for the delay in action pursuant to section 39 (1) of the Limitation Act Cap 187 is granted.

2, Leave of the Court Pursuant to Section 200 (3) of the Shipping Act 1998 to extend time to enforce lien is granted.

3, Sheriff of High Court is hereby authorized to arrest MV Seagull 9 and MV Seagull 10 “the ships” pursuant to Arrest Warrant issue.

4, Sheriff of High Court to take all appropriate steps to retain safe custody of ship and to preserve the ship or property including (a) moving the ship (b) immobilizing or preventing from sailing in such a manner the Sheriff of High Court may consider appropriate.”

The two vessels are now arrested and are outside of the Ranadi area in Honiara.