The stowaways who ran amok on a container vessel in 2018

By PA Reporters
·3-min read

The news of armed forces personnel boarding a crude oil tanker off the Isle of Wight comes nearly two years after a stowaway-related shipping incident hit the headlines.

In December 2018, a group of stowaways ran amok on a massive container ship during a 14-hour stand-off in the Thames Estuary.

The vessel, the Grande Tema – a 71,000-tonne ship which had set off from Lagos, Nigeria, ended up sailing round in circles in the estuary while authorities responded.

Stowaways jailed after rampage on ship
The four were convicted at the Old Bailey (Essex Police)

Four men were eventually detained under the Immigration Act after police boarded the cargo ship.

At a subsequent trial at the Old Bailey, which ran from September to November 2019, the four men from Nigeria and Liberia were accused of waving metal poles and lobbing faeces after they had stowed away.

The court heard how they demanded to be taken to Britain, with two making cut-throat gestures at crew members who had barricaded themselves on the bridge.

But, under the cover of darkness, special forces swooped in to break the deadlock and rescue the ship’s sailors, the jury was told.

Samuel Jolumi, Ishola Sunday, Toheeb Popoola, and Joberto McGee, then aged from 20 to 27, were cleared of attempting to hijack the ship but convicted of affray.

Popoola was found guilty of making a threat to kill while McGee was convicted on two similar counts.

During the trial, prosecutor Tony Badenoch QC explained how the men had secretly boarded the Grimaldi Group ship in Lagos before setting sail on its trading route to Tilbury in Essex.

The captain discovered the group on the lower deck ramp close to where the propellers are, with two hanging over the rails in dangerous waters, the jury was told.

The men were given food and water and placed into quarantine, but broke out five days later and demanded to be taken to Britain.

Mr Badenoch said: “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 case, they cut themselves.”

They were also filmed by the crew making cut-throat gestures and waving bottles of urine.

During the trial, jurors heard evidence from the Italian captain Antonio Raggi who told of his fears for the safety of the 27-strong crew.

The jury also visited the 232m long ship at Tilbury docks which was said to be heavier than the UK’s largest aircraft carrier, and only slightly shorter in length than the Houses of Parliament.

The four men were jailed by Judge Nigel Lickley QC at a sentencing hearing in January this year.

Ringleader McGee received 32 months in jail, Popoola was jailed for 31 months and the two co-defendants were handed jail terms of 16 months.

Judge Lickley said it was an “unusual case”, the like of which he had never come across in his professional life before.

He told the defendants: “The crew were intimidated, fearful and some feared for their lives at times.

“The English Channel is a busy sea lane and it was disrupted by your activity.”

The judge also praised the “fortitude and good sense” of the ship’s captain in the face of violence and possible death.