Two African stowaways were given life jackets and two bottles of water before they were cast off into the Indian Ocean after the ship’s captain and his crew feared catching COVID-19 from them.
Cui Rongli, along with crew members Lin Xinyong, Zou Yongxian, Tan Yian, Xie Wenbin, Xu Kun and Mu Yong all pleaded guilty to the attempted murder at the Durban Magistrates Court in South Africa on Friday in connection with the incident. Cui, the ship’s captain, also pleaded guilty to contravention of the provisions of the Merchant Shipping Act related to misconduct in endangering the life of, causing injury to, and failure to report stowaways.
Vishalan Moodley, the acting regional court magistrate, gave Cui a choice of a fine of over $5,000 or four years’ imprisonment for the two attempted murder charges. The remaining crew members were fined $2,500 as part of a plea bargain.
The seven Chinese men were part of the crew of the Hong Kong-registered ship MV Top Grace, which arrived from Singapore in the port of Durban on the east coast of South Africa early last month, the Daily Dispatch reports.
Natasha Kara, a spokesperson for the National Prosecuting Authority, told the daily newspaper in Eastern Cape that the crew left Durban on March 26. The following day they discovered the two Tanzanian men and identified them as stowaways, Kara said. The pair had climbed an anchor chain into the ship while it was docked in Durban.
“The accused became wary of the men and asked them to wear face masks in light of the Covid-19 pandemic,” she said.
“The men refused to wear the face masks. They gave them food and water, and put them into a separate room, as they did not know their COVID-19 status and feared for the rest of the crew. The two men demanded to know the vessel’s destination.”
With two bottles of water each, a life jacket and a makeshift raft, Amiri Salamu, 20, and Hassani Rajabu, 30, were forced to leave the MV Top Grace cargo ship some three nautical miles from shore and make their way back to land using only their hands as paddles.
The makeshift raft was dumped into the Indian Ocean near the mouth of the Tugela River. where great whites, hammerheads, tiger and bull sharks are frequently known to hunt, according to the Daily Mail.
Three days and two nights later the Tanzanian stowaways washed up onto a tourist beach on the KwaZulu-Natal coast of South Africa, approximately 50 miles north of Durban. The pair were found by locals and were sent to an area hospital, according to the newspaper. The two were reported to have been suffering from hypothermia, thirst and hunger, the newspaper states. The ship’s crew was radioed and forced to come ashore and face South African justice shortly after the two Tanzanian men were found.
African nationals in the Chinese port city of Guangzhou recently have been subjected to racist acts and abuse amid the growing concerns about the novel virus making its second rotation in the country.
People of African descent in the southern Chinese city reported racial discrimination in which they have been kicked out of hotels, evicted from their homes and seen their passports confiscated.
Chinese officials, after initially denying the accusations by saying they were sensationalized by social media, belatedly acknowledged the problem, one whose effects possibly were felt thousands of miles away from Guangzhou in the southern Indian Ocean.