Four deny container ship ‘hijack attempt’ in bid to reach UK, court told

Four stowaways tried to hijack a container ship and threatened to kill the crew in a desperate bid to reach Britain, a court has heard.

The men, from Nigeria and Liberia, allegedly armed themselves with metal poles and lobbed faeces after they broke out of quarantine aboard the 78,000 tonne Grande Tema.

Special forces swooped on the ship in the Thames Estuary to rescue the sailors in December last year, a jury was told.

Samuel Jolumi, 27, Ishola Sunday, 28, Toheeb Popoola, 27, and Joberto McGee, 20, have denied attempting to hijack the ship, making threats to kill, and affray.

Opening their Old Bailey trial, prosecutor Tony Badenoch QC said the defendants had hidden themselves aboard the international merchant ship voyaging between West Africa and various European ports including Tilbury in Essex.

Central Criminal Court – stock
The trial is being held at the Old Bailey (John Stillwell/PA)

The Italian flagged Grande Tema weighs unladen some 78,000 tonnes, is 232 metres long, 32 metres wide and approximately 38 metres above the water line.

The container vessel operated by the Grimaldi Group is heavier than the UK’s largest aircraft carrier, and only slightly shorter in length than the Houses of Parliament, Mr Badenoch said.

He told jurors: “As you will no doubt be aware migrants are leaving Africa and using all manner of different routes across land and sea to reach Europe and of course the UK here in Europe.”

He said the four defendants stowed away on the lower deck of the Grande Tema in Lagos, Nigeria for many days of the voyage.

When the crew discovered them, they were placed into quarantine, jurors heard.

But Mr Badenoch said: “Five days later they broke free from the room in which they had been detained, and threatened to kill the crew members whilst making demands that the ship should make its way to the United Kingdom.

“In order to reinforce these demands the defendants armed themselves with metal poles, they threw urine and faeces, and in at least one defendant’s cases, they cut themselves.

Thames Estuary stowaways
The Grimaldi Lines’ Grande Tema (Gareth Fuller/PA)

“The crew believed that the reason for the cut was a form of threat, that they they would pass on disease that they carried to the crew unless their demands were met.”

The incident was reported to British authorities and the ship was held off-shore in UK waters until the situation on board was resolve and the safety of the crew secured.

Mr Badenoch said: “That resolution was in the middle of the night at 10.55pm.

“That was done by the intervention of the Special Forces going to The Grande Tema to resolve the situation.

“Only once that had been done, with these four defendants detained, was the ship permitted to continue its voyage into Tilbury.

“The defendants were then brought ashore, spoken to by both police and immigration officers, before being charged with these serious offences.”

The jury has been told they will view the Grande Tema at Tilbury Docks on Friday.

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