Four Nigerian stowaways were on Friday jailed for a total of seven years by a court in the United Kingdom. Samuel Jolumi (27), Ishola Sunday (28), Toheeb Popoola (27), and Joberto McGee (21) were all found guilty of affray after an eight-week trial in the Old Bailey. Popoola and McGee were separately found guilty of making threats to kill.
But they were cleared of attempting to hijack the ship, according to the London Mail. The convicts hurled faeces at elite SBS sailors and threatened to infect them with HIV during a tense stand-off in the Thames Estuary. The stowaways also threatened to kill crew members and armed themselves with metal poles when they broke free from quarantine on the 78,000-tonne Italian merchant ship on 21 December 2018 and said they would steer it to the UK.
Helicopters with specialist sailors were sent to rescue the Grande Tema’s crew and arrest the men while the ship floated off the Essex coast. The group was found by the captain days after the vessel set sail from Lagos, Nigeria, and placed in quarantine before they mutinied five days later.
At least one member of the group made ‘throat-slitting’ gestures at the 27-strong crew and McGee mouthed the words: ‘I kill you’. Faeces was also smeared across the windows of the cabin that the crew had barricaded themselves into. Two of the stowaways were caught by sailors while foraging on the upper deck, while Italian captain Antonio Raggi found the other two hanging over the railings near the ship’s propellers in dangerous waters.
They were welcome with smiles by the crew, offered food and placed into quarantine, but rebelled five days later as the ship approached Britain. A tense 14-hour stand-off ensued on 21 December 2018 before special forces boarded the ship under cover of darkness and arrested the stowaways.
Popoola and McGee had previously been sent back to Nigeria after stowing away on separate ships, while Sunday is a married father-of-two who took a ‘chance’ decision to board the ship.
Popoola has stowed himself away three times previously, and has also applied for asylum, and McGee, who organised the riot, said he had dreams of becoming a footballer when he reached the UK.
Prosecutor Tony Badenoch, QC, told jurors: ‘These four defendants left Nigeria and wanted to reach this country. ‘In order to reinforce these demands the defendants also armed themselves with metal poles, threw urine and faeces, and in at least one of the defendant’s cases, they cut themselves.
‘The crew believed that the reason for that cut was a form of threat, that they would pass on a disease which they carried to the crew unless their demands were met.
‘Those events were, as you would expect, reported to the authorities here in the United Kingdom, and the Grande Tema was held off-shore in UK waters whilst the situation on board was resolved and the crew were no longer at risk and in danger.’
Judge Nigel Lickley QC told them: ‘You paraded about that day as a menacing group, sometimes covering your faces.
‘This is an unusual case. You were all cleared of attempted hijacking of the ship and multiple threats kill.
‘You Popoola and McGee of one and two counts of making threats to kill. You might well have been terrorists who had secreted arms on board in advance.
‘There was serious fear or distress caused during this time to some of the crew. They feared confrontation, violence and potentially serious injury for many hours.