Survivors and families of the sunken ship express concern that the investigation into the deaths of their loved ones may yield no answers.
President George Weah’s silence on the sunken vessel, the Niko Ivanka, has agitated survivors of the shipwreck and families of those who lost their lives in the accident.
The perpetual silence of President Weah, whether intentional or not, appeared strange as the President has in the past offered condolences to the other victims of less dire circumstances, unleashing government assistance through the National Disaster Management Agency (NDMA).
However, since the sinking of the Niko Ivanka ship with 29 people on board, the President has yet to release a single statement to console the survivors and families of the deceased, nor has he ordered the NDMA to respond to the needs of those affected.
The Niko Ivanka vessel set sail from the Freeport of Monrovia on July 17 and, out of the 29 people on board, only 12 survived. The corpses of the rest of those missing have not been found, except five.
When asked on July 29 whether President Weah had reached out to the survivors and families of the sunken vessel, a spokesperson in the office of President Weah told the Daily Observer: “Not yet, we are still in the recovery stage as per protocol.”
When pressed further, the spokesperson agreed with the Observer that the sinking of the ship was a national tragedy and that the President would release a statement on the matter by August 2, 2021.
“An official statement is set for Monday (August 2, 2021),” the spokesperson said.
Now, the survivors and families of those who died in the ship accident, now gravely disheartened by the President’s conspicuous silence, have now threatened his government with uncompromising legal actions.
We will go to court, if...
At a press conference yesterday, families of those who lost their lives chastised the government for paying little attention to their plights, particularly issues that have to do with investigating the sailing of the Niko Ivanka since it was deemed unworthy for sea.
And while the survivors and families gathered for a press conference on Thursday morning, August 5 to express their dismay, the President and some of his senior officials were in the PHP community, central Monrovia, breaking ground for a playground.
“We have observed with dismay that the national Government is not giving the incident the due attention as supposed to be and, should the government fail to listen, we will stage sit-in protests,” noted Johnson Keymah in a statement on behalf of the ship's deceased families.
“If nothing is done still, we will go to court and sue the government for the negligence that led to the deaths of our loved ones. If we are not satisfied with our legal system, we will go to the ECOWAS Court and present our case. We are hurt but are yet to be consoled by this government. We are grieving and finding it all too difficult to stay calm,” noted Mr. Keymah.
The Niko Ivanka, a Liberian-made ship, commissioned in 2018, which sank about six nautical miles off the Coast of Marshall City, regularly sailed between the Free Port of Monrovia and the Port of Harper.
The ship’s operating license was approved by the Liberia Maritime Authority (LiMA) and limited it to cargo, but it is unclear how the captain of the ship managed to leave the port despite knowing a detention notice had been placed on the ship by LiMA on April 28, 2021, deeming it “not fit to go to sea”.
Of the 12 people survivors, 11 were saved the same day, one person a day later. However, after nearly three weeks since the tragic incident, the rest, including two children, are considered dead.
Survivors of the Niko Ivanka have described their experience from the sunken vessel as a horrifying experience, filled with prayers for forgiveness, cries, and sorrow.
They reported that about two hours after leaving, the ship began to take in water but, despite the sign, the captain insisted on sailing for the high sea, and not too long after, it began to sink.
According to them, the captain and his crew were the first to jump off the ship when it was sinking.
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.
“We are in pain”
Meanwhile, Keymah and the other victims noted that they were hard hit by the untimely death of their loved ones; but they are suffering more as a result of the government not coming forth with information.
“We have not been provided information about the investigation as it progresses. We do not know when it will end. We are in pain and we hold WAEC, Maritime and NPA responsible for the deaths of our loved ones,” Keymah and his colleagues lamented. “Up to now, no one has clearly explained to us how our family were allowed on a ship designated not to carry passengers onboard… or even prohibited from sailing due to its unworthy condition.
“Little or no efforts have been made to find the missing persons or their bodies,” the aggrieved families claimed. “Up to now, no one has been held liable for negligence or whatsoever,” they added.
The group’s spokesperson noted that the bodies of six of the nine staff of WAEC are said to have been recovered and are in the possession of the Government with a call for a DNA test before release of each of the bodies.
“We don’t want any DNA test on the remains of our loved ones. Once the body of each is discovered and recognized by the family and no controversy ensues, the government should turn over said body to apply to all other bodies,” the group demanded.
They called on President Weah to dismiss or compel Lenn Eugene Nagbe, Commissioner and head of LiMA; Bill Twehway, Managing Director at the National Port Authority (NPA); and Dale Gbotoe, head of WAEC Liberia head office, to recuse themselves as the investigation is ongoing.
“The Managers of NIKO Ivanka are freely moving around. This is sad and painful. They should be in jail now while the investigation is ongoing. Why do we continue to suffer like this? This is unacceptable,” Keymah added.
However, victims in their statement at the Headquarters of the West Africa Examination Council in Congo Town, demanded that the government concludes the sunken ship investigation and make public the findings not later than Tuesday, August 10, and that they want the bodies of their loved ones recovered so far.
According to them, they have been reliably informed that there is secret recruitment already ongoing at WAEC in a bid to replace the fallen staff; something they think is even more painful, considering the time interval.
They said if the information about the alleged recruitment is true, the government should put an immediate end to it and that WAEC suspends the administration of the exams until the remains of their loved ones are laid to rest.