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13.03.2007 General News

Cocaine Vessel Sailed To High Seas

Cocaine Vessel Sailed To High Seas

The Takoradi Harbour Master yesterday told the Accra Fast Track High Court hearing the case involving the missing cocaine on board the MV Benjamin that the vessel's movement card indicated that it sailed to the high seas and not Tema.

Captain James Owusu Koranteng said the card contained information on when a ship intended to berth at the port and when it would leave and in the case of the MV Benjamin, its card indicated that it was to berth on November 9, 2005 until March 9, 2006.

He said the vessel berthed at the port to undergo some repairs.

He was testifying in the case concerning some missing cocaine on board the MV Benjamin in which the vessel owner, Joseph Kojo Dawson, Pak Bok Sil, a Korean, Isaac Arhin and Philip Bruce Arhin, both Ghanaians, Cui Xian Li and Luo Yin Xing, both Chinese, are alleged to have played various roles leading to the importation of 77 parcels of cocaine, each weighing 30 kilogrammes, into the country.

They have been charged with various counts of using property for narcotic offences, engaging in prohibited business relating to narcotics and possession of narcotic drugs without lawful authority.

Each of them has pleaded not guilty to all the charges and have been remanded into prison custody.

Led in evidence by Mrs Yvonne Atakorah Obuobisa, a Senior State Attorney, the witness said the vessel's movement card was signed by a representative of Dashment Shipping Company Limited, as agents of the MV Benjamin.

Mr Koranteng said sailing from the Takoradi Harbour to Tema did not constitute the high seas and that the high seas was 12 nautical miles from the shore.

He said in the case of Tema, vessels did not go that far except at the Osu Castle area where because of security reasons vessels sailing to Tema had to go beyond seven nautical miles.

The witness tendered various documents which indicated that the MV Benjamin berthed at the Takoradi Harbour and paid for certain services provided by the Ghana Ports and Harbours Authority (GPHA).

The documents included the vessel's prefunding input form, various cashiers' receipts, berth card, among many others.

Mr Koranteng said the original name of the vessel was MV Duk Won 63 but he did not receive any document from Dashment Shipping Company Limited requiring a change of ownership of the vessel.

During cross-examination by Mr D.K Ameley, counsel for Dawson, the witness said the port authorities might not be aware of a ship's owner when it was coming to berth and that they relied on information normally supplied by the agent who was licensed by the port.

He said the port authorities also did not inspect the certificate of registry of the vessel at berth. However, its ownership could change and not the agent.

According to witness, in receiving payments from ships, the port dealt with agents and not personalities and that anybody who presented a bill was allowed to pay money.

He said the vessel movement card was not given to the vessel but either its captain or an agent's representative could sign it.

When counsel put it to the witness that Dashment Shipping Company was the owners of the vessel, he replied that the port did not deal with vessel owners but their agents and in the case of the MV Benjamin, Dashment Shipping Company acted as the agents.

The witness further said when a vessel was on charter, its agent might or might not change and if that did not change it was the agent which would pay bills on behalf of a vessel.

He said he did not know that between January 2006 and March 2006 the MV Benjamin was on charter to Atico Fisheries.

Mr Koranteng said he did not know whether the payments made by Dashment Shipping Company were on behalf of Atico Fisheries.

He said at all material times the crew of a vessel were briefed by its captain as to where the vessel was sailing to but in the case of the MV Benjamin he did not know whether the crew was briefed or not.

Story by Stephen Sah