“They Killed Our Husbands”

Widow of the late Joe Joe victim of the Sunken Niko Ivanka.

Widows of the Niko Ivanka Shipwreck victims accused the government of Liberia through WAEC for sending their loved ones on a dangerous mission.

The last time Joe G. Joe, one of the deceased from the sunken Niko Ivanka ship, spoke to his wife, it was about his trip to the Southeast to proctor the now-postponed West African Secondary School Certificate Examination for elementary students.

This was on July 16, a day before the trip after he had arrived from work.  According to her, Joe was not excited about the trip and kept on complaining to his wife that the trip was against his desire. 

“I am now emptied and speechless. Don’t know what is going to happen to me. I am broken and feeling a deep pain in my chest. They killed my husband. They have killed me, my people,” narrate a lady who claimed to be Joe’s widow in a tearful interview with Spoon TV on August 5. 

According to her, Joe’s countenance changed when he was informing her about the trip as “if to say he knew sometimes was going to happen.”

I noticed the unwillingness from my husband to make the trip but due to order, he had to go. He was reluctant and kept saying, ‘They say only by boat and on the sea, we will have to go.’ He somehow felt that something was wrong with the trip, and kept complaining, but felt compelled to go since it was an order,” she said.

Unfortunately, his suspicion was confirmed when the Niko Ivanka vessel, which he boarded along with eight other workers from WAEC, sank about six nautical miles off the Coast of Marshall City. The Liberian-made ship, commissioned in 2018, had 29 people on board with only 12 surviving,  while the rest, including Joe and two kids, drowned.

The ship’s operating license was approved by the Liberia Maritime Authority (LiMA) but limited to cargo. However, it is unclear how the ship managed to leave the port despite a detention notice being placed on it by LiMA on April 28, 2021, deeming it “not fit to go to sea”. 

Survivors of the Niko Ivanka have described their experience from the sunken vessel as a horrifying experience. 

For Joe’s family, his death and the deaths of others was the start of a painful, grief-choked odyssey that has turned them and many other families into reluctant activists, threatening the government with a lawsuit and demanding the sacking or recusal of the bosses of the National Port Authority, Bill Twehway, Liberia Maritime Authority,  Eugene Lenn Nagbe, and Dale G. Gbotoe, Head of WAEC in Liberia from any investigations.

During a press conference on August 5, families of those who lost their lives called out 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 to express their dismay, the President and some of his senior officials were in the PHP community, central Monrovia, breaking ground for a new playground. 

“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 Johnson Keymah in a statement on behalf of the families of the deceased from the sunken ship. 

According to Joe’s widow, her husband worked as “a police officer with over twenty years of experience”, but had been assigned at the headquarters of WAEC for the last four years. 

Mrs. Joe, who did not disclose her name during the interview, described her husband as a professional person who always “knew what to do on his job, and was a humble person. But sadly, his humility has ended his life in this tragic manner.”

The couple got married 32 years ago and now have five children and six grandchildren. According to Mrs. Joe, her husband shouldered the family responsibilities and served as a pillar for them, despite his meager pay as an ordinary police officer.

“I lost my husband just because of other people’s negligence. I feel so lonely. It is so heartbreaking that he left me and the children without saying goodbye.  I’ll never be able to see his face again or hear his voice,” the widow said. “We were in the 32nd year of our marriage. We have five children and six grandchildren. He was the pillar for us and did everything well to keep us smiling, even in difficult times.”

With Joe’s death, his widow claimed that life will be miserable in the absence of external support.
It was her husband’s salary, she says, the family depended on mainly to keep the home running, at the same time settling bills. 

“I contribute to the home but his salary takes care of a lot and now that he is no more, I am finished.”

Most painful, Joe’s widow says, is the fact that her  husband left for the trip on July 17, 2021, without a goodbye “as he used to do.”

“All I heard from neighbors was that he said ‘My family, my family, my family,’ as if he knew what was ahead of him,” she said tearfully. “He didn’t pass to me on the road where I fry the doughnut as he used to do.” 

Like Joe’s widow, Bernice Kollie also lost her husband, Rancy, to Niko Ivanka.

Rancy married Bernice four years ago and has now left her with a 1 year, three months old child.

Two days before the trip on July 15, Rancy also expressed worry about safety. However, when his wife told him not to go due to his fear, he told her he would go anyway.

“Our marriage lasted just four years. What a terrible world! He left me with a child who keeps staring around to see the father. Our home is cold and I am broken,” Mrs. Kollie said. “We passed the night of July 15, 2021,  but he did not sleep. He was not happy and I too felt that he should not make the trip but he told me to be prayerful,” Mrs. Kollie cried as she explained.

Mrs. Kollie is also of the opinion that her husband may have objected to traveling by sea but was compelled by WAEC to go or a punitive action could have been meted against him.

“This is why we are holding them responsible for the deaths of our husbands. Yes, they killed them,” she added.