Racism in Europe: Stowaways meet murder on the high seas

Click to follow
KINGSLEY OFUSU thought he was heading for the bright lights of Europe when he and eight others stowed away on the MC Ruby in the Ghanaian port of Takoradi last October.

The fate that awaited him and his fellow stowaways when the Ukrainian crew came across them hidden among the coffee beans is a cautionary tale for the countless Third World people who attempt to sneak into Europe hoping to make a better life. Many are murdered when found aboard ships, and the evidence is destroyed by throwing their bodies overboard to be consumed by sharks.

Five members of the 22-person Ukrainian crew of the MC Ruby, which had a former Soviet navy captain on board, were charged with murder, piracy, kidnapping and extortion when the ship docked at Le Havre, and are awaiting trial.

Mr Ofusu's tale is extraordinary, however, because he is one of the rare survivors among the hundreds, perhaps thousands, of Third World victims who succumb while trying to make it to Europe or North America every year. Black or brown for the most part, they are victims of a casual racism by captains and crews who cannot be bothered handing them over to the authorities.

Mr Ofusu and his companions picked a ship that was already notorious when they stowed away. In 1984, a Greek captain of the MC Ruby poured rat poison on 11 Kenyan stowaways and threw their bodies overboard. Six survived the ordeal and the captain went to jail for a decade.

For shipowners, stowaways are an expensive nuisance, since under international law they must be fed and sent back to where they came from after time-consuming immigration procedures. There is undoubtedly a racist element to the casualness with which ships' crews murder and dispose of stowaways while at sea.

Mr Ofusu and his fellow stowaways clambered aboard the MC Ruby with pounds 1,800 between them as well as some water, bread and corn. Six days out to sea one of the sailors found them and took their money. Then, at gunpoint, they were locked in a confined space without food or water. Three days later the Ukrainians ordered them out on deck.

'They took us out two by two. They shot some, beat others, and then just threw them overboard,' Mr Ofusu said. 'Albert (his brother) and I were the last. When I climbed out I saw a shirt of one of the crew was soaked in blood. Albert was in front of me and he shouted, 'Run they are gloing to kill us]' I made a break but one of the officers hit me with an iron bar.'

He heard his brother being thrown overboard and clambered up five containers where, despite constant searches, he hid for the remainder of the journey, escaping eventually through a rusty grill at Le Havre.

The police, who were initially suspicious of his claim, raided the ship and sent divers down to find the alleged murder weapon, a rifle. Six Ukrainians are in jail awaiting a trial next year.