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Murder on the high seas: The Maersk Dubai incident

PortandTerminal.com, March 7, 2019

Halifax, Canada – In 1996 eight Filipino crewmen and one terrified Romanian stowaway disembarked from the Maersk Dubai when it docked at Halifax, Nova Scotia. All nine of the men feared for their lives and wanted to put as much distance between themselves and the Maersk Dubai’s Taiwanese officers as they could.

Shortly after the vessel docked it became known that four of the Filipino crew had witnessed their captain and ship’s officers forcing two stowaways overboard to certain death and stabbing a third to death as the teenaged boy begged for his life.

The ship

The Maersk Dubai incident took place in 1996 aboard the Taiwanese container ship Maersk Dubai, which was on long-term charter to the A.P. Moller-Maersk Group. The vessel was owned, officered and crewed by the Yang Ming Marine Transport Corporation from Taiwan.

Built in 1983, the vessel had been involved in a serious collision two years before the murders took place. After changing ownership a few times following the murders in 1996 it was eventually broken up in 2004.

Four stowaways and three murders

Murdered: Petre Sângeorzan (21 years old), was forced overboard by the Taiwanese officers along with fellow Romanian stowaway Radu Danciu (31 years)

According to the crew of the Maersk Dubai, the ship’s top officers forced two Romanian stowaways overboard onto a makeshift raft that, once it left the ship, quickly broke up leaving the two men to drown in plain view.

I heard screams on the deck. I saw two people kneeling before the captain, asking for mercy. They were desperate. They begged us not to (put them overboard) and sought a (trace) of humanity in the eyes of those present at this scene. A Romanian kissed the commander’s feet shouting “Mom, help me!”

Philippine sailor, eyewitness to the incident

A third stowaway, when discovered on a subsequent voyage, was taken to the deck, beaten and stabbed on deck by officers and then thrown overboard. Both incidents took place off the coast of Spain.

The third teenaged stowaway, Florin Mihoc, according to one member of the crew, was stabbed repeatedly on deck after being discovered. “I see this person screaming, crying, kneeling down, begging for his life.” All the chief officers were present but “they ignored everything,” he said. The man was murdered and his body tossed overboard.

Murdered: Florin Mihoc was just a teenager when he was beaten and stabbed to death by the Taiwanese officers of the Maersk Dubai

A fourth stowaway, Nicholas Paşca, was discovered by a Filipino sailor. The Filipino sailors kept the stowaway hidden and fed until he was able to escape with them upon the ship’s arrival in Halifax.

Arrival in Halifax, Canada

The murders were brought to the attention of authorities when Filipino crewmen mailed a desperate letter describing what had happened to Rev. Randy Albano, a Philippines-born chaplain at a seafarers’ centre in Houston. He faxed it to the International Transport Workers Federation, a union coalition that oversees seafarers’ welfare, and to Canadian authorities.

The Maersk Dubai was seized by Canadian officials upon its arrival in Halifax. The Taiwanese officers and crew were interrogated.

After investigation by Canadian officers, proof of the existence of the four Romanian stowaways (traces of food and clothing) was found on board, confirming the testimonies of the Philippine sailors. After several hearings and deliberations held over several months, the Supreme Court of Justice ruled that the Canadian State had no jurisdiction to hear a case that had occurred in international waters, so the seizure on the ship was lifted, and the seven Taiwanese murders were released on bail and sent home to Taiwan.

They were never brought to justice.

In the follow-up case, after the Filipino sailors agreed to testify against the Taiwanese officers, both they and their families in the Philippines were threatened and harassed.

The Concern for Seafarers Witnesses Society (CSWS) was formed in July 1996 to assist the sailors financially and to try to protect them from harassment and persecution, which included assisting the sailors to apply for landed immigrant status. In February 1999 three of them were granted status, at which point they successfully applied to bring their families to Canada. Later the fourth seamen and his wife were granted Minister’s permits to remain in Canada.

Motive

The Filipino crewmen maintained that the stowaways had been thrown overboard by the Taiwanese officers of the Maersk Dubai in order to avoid paying a fine of US $5,090 for each illegal immigrant brought into Canada.

Similar rules exist to this day in Canada. Under Canadian law, shipping lines must pay a deposit of CAD $25,000 per person (US $19,000), every time a stowaway is found on their vessel.

Canada maintains that the money is used to pay for possible medical treatments and for the cost of deporting the stowaways if their claim to stay in Canada is rejected. Any leftover money is returned to the company. While Canada’s rationale for the laws may be solid, they clearly provide the wrong incentives for unscrupulous officers and shipping lines.

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