“Horrifying Experience”

Christopher Young left his house for Maryland County on the MV Niko Ivanka ship

Sunken ship survivor describes ordeal

When Christopher Young left his house for Maryland County on the MV Niko Ivanka ship, he was in high spirits.  

Employed by the West Africa Examination Council (WACE) to administer the now postponed elementary exam in that part of the county, Young could not wait to reach his destination. 

But less than half way into the trip at sea, Young’s hope of reaching his destination was crushed when he was informed by the Captain of Niko Ivanka that the ship was sinking.   

“Everything happened so fast. It was so frightening that before we looked,  everyone on board was already in the water,” Young said. “The ship sank and people started to fight for their lives. Life Jackets were scarce and there was nothing the captain could do to save anyone. 

“It was a horrifying experience filled with thoughts of, what if I had known, prayers for forgiveness, cries, and sorrow.

“I thought I was never going to survive, but by the Grace of God, here I am. I do not know how to swim, neither was I wearing a life jacket nor in any place that was safe as fast as the ship was sinking,” Young said.

Young and 27 other passengers of the Niko Ivanka ship left the Freeport of Monrovia at 6:00 a.m. on Saturday, July 21, but a few hours into the journey, the ship started to sink about six nautical miles off the Coast of Marshall City.

In no time, Young says Niko Ivanka sank and about 11 p.m. a nearby vessel, Sam Simon, owned by the Sea Shepherd, arrived to rescue the passengers after receiving a distress call from the captain of the Ivanka.

 At the location where the ship sank, there was flotsam and debris in the water, and that visibility was obscured by rain and darkness, according to Sea Shepherd.

However, the darkness did not stop them from rescuing Young and 10 others.  At 11:16 p.m., six survivors were spotted in the single life raft belonging to Niko Ivanka. The Sea Shepherd crew supported Liberian Coast Guard sailors stationed onboard Sam Simon to retrieve the six persons. 

According to the survivors, Niko Ivanka left the port of Monrovia with 26-28 persons on board. 

Shortly thereafter, the Sam Simon’s crew heard voices calling for help. Another five persons were rescued after spending 13 hours in the water. Two were wearing life jackets and another three were holding on to them.

So far, only 12 people have been rescued since the operation began, while the fate of 16 other passengers including two children remains unknown.

WAEC’s Decision

The decision to travel by Ship instead of road, Young disclosed, was made by WAEC and they were not consulted on it. Young alleged that he and his colleague were informed about the arrangement when the time for the trip arrived, so they had no knowledge of whether the ship was safe or not.

“It was on the sea that we started to carry on our investigation and discover that the ship Niko Ivanka was not seaworthy,” he said. “To the family members of my colleagues that have not yet been found, we are in prayers with you and hope that God in his infinite mercy will spare their lives.”

Meanwhile, Young has expressed disappointment in the disappearance of his colleagues but expressed hope that those who remain missing will still be found alive.

Built in four months

Built locally and commissioned by Vice President Jewel Howard Taylor in 2018, the NIKO IVANKA had been an essential transporter of goods and people to the southeast. It regularly sailed between the Freeport of Monrovia and the Port of Harper -- carrying essential goods that would have been delayed in reaching the southeast due to bad road conditions.

Owned by HYLAEA INC, the ship only took four months to be assembled at its hub in Marshall, Margibi County, and in no time got approval by the government to sail, although Liberia is not a shipbuilding country.

Considering the uncertainty surrounding its durability, NIKO IVANKA was allowed to sail on the high sea.

The Liberia Maritime Authority approved the operation of the ship and limited it to cargo. However, it is unclear how the LiMA let its guard down despite placing a detention notice on April 28, 2021, for operating with expired certificates, deeming it “not fit to go to sea”. LiMA however served the notice on the National Port Authority, the Liberian National Coast Guard, and the Management of the vessel.

About two hours after leaving the port on July 21, Young says, the ship began to take in water but, despite the sign, the captain was still sailing for the high sea.

“When we picked up from the Freeport of Monrovia, it did not take long for water to start entering the vessel, but that did not deter the captain,” Young said. “It was the front of the vessel that began, before the entire body, while at high sea. At that moment everyone was finding a way how he or she could be saved.

According to Young, the ship sank not only because it was not sea-worthy, but probably overloaded with cargo and passengers.

“I may not be a ship inspector but, looking at what occurred at sea, I think firstly the vessel was not seaworthy, secondly, the vessel was overloaded and thirdly, it was a cargo vessel in the first place and should have not carried passengers,” he added.