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Chinese crew guilty of throwing Tanzanian stowaways overboard

The Top Grace entering the port of Richards Bay
The Top Grace entering the port of Richards Bay
Image: Supplied

Seven Chinese nationals have been convicted of attempted murder for throwing two Tanzanians into the ocean last month.

They were ordered to pay hefty fines after they pleaded guilty to the attempted murder of stowaways, who were thrown off a ship just off the KwaZulu-Natal coast.

Cui Rongli, Lin Xinyong, Zou Yongxian, Tan Yian, Xie Wenbin, Xu Kun and Mu Yong appeared in the Durban magistrate's court on Friday for sentencing.

They had previously pleaded guilty to the charges.

The ship master, Rongli, also pleaded guilty to contravention of the provisions of Section 174 (1)a and Section 317 (4) of the Merchant Shipping Act, Act 57 of 1951 — related to misconduct (endangering life or causing injury) and failure to report stowaways.

The men were part of the crew of a shipping vessel, MV Top Grace, which arrived from Singapore in the port of Durban early last month.

National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) spokesperson Natasha Kara said that, in their plea, the crew mentioned that their vessel then left Durban on March 26.

The following day they discovered two Tanzanian men on board. Realising that the men were stowaways, they asked them to identify themselves.

“The accused became wary of the men and asked them to wear face masks in light of the Covid-19 pandemic. 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.”

Kara said accused 2 to 7 then constructed a raft with plastic drums and plywood.

“They provided the men with life jackets and water and asked them to leave the ship on the raft. The crew acted in a threatening manner by banging on the vessel's deck and the men descended into the raft. The ship pulled away once they were on board the raft.”

The two men later washed ashore at Zinkwazi beach near KwaDukuza and the crew of the vessel was asked to proceed to the port of Richards Bay.

“The accused admitted that their actions could have resulted in serious injury and even loss of life to them.”

Acting regional court magistrate Vishalan Moodley sentenced Rongli to a fine of R100,000 or four years' imprisonment for the two attempted murder charges, which were taken as one.

For failing to report the stowaways, he was sentenced to a fine of R10,000 or three months' imprisonment, suspended for five years on condition that he is not convicted of the same offence during the period of suspension.

He was sentenced to a fine of R50,000 or 12 months' imprisonment for misconduct. This sentence is also suspended for five years on condition that he is not convicted of the same offence during the period of suspension.

“Each of the other accused were sentenced to a fine of R50,000 or two years' imprisonment for the attempted murders. They were handed over to immigration officials after paying their fines,” said Kara.


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