Two fishermen from Tema died at sea in the early hours of Thursday, sparking a furore between fishers and port authorities over what caused their death.
The fishers, mostly from Tema Manhean (Newtown), claimed the two were part of 12 members who were on a ritual Homowo fishing expedition, when a patrol boat from the Ghana Ports and Harbours Authority (GPHA) rammed into their canoe at the Tema Port anchorage, causing it to capsize.
But the GPHA denied that assertion, saying no such incident happened at sea.
The canoe, Adesa Na Ohetsui, which translates: “Man be patient”, was carrying 12 fishermen, who were on a Homowo ritual fishing expedition with the backing of the Tema Traditional Council.
The fishermen said they were hauling their net within the anchorage when they were rammed by the patrol boat that was at the scene to drive them away.
The deceased persons have been identified as Francis Tetteh Larbi, 27, and Samuel Acquaye Allotey, 45, both residents of Tema Newtown.
The incident, which occurred around 1:30 a.m., sparked anger and outrage among the fishing community, who had called for an independent investigation into the incident.
They also demanded that the GPHA be held accountable for the incident, insisting that the patrol boat belonged to the authority.
However, a statement from the GPHA refuted the allegations, saying “There was never a collision between the Security Patrol Boat and any fishing boat whatsoever”.
“We wish to emphasize that GPHA is a responsible organization involved in search and rescue missions and as such will not abandon victims of a collision even if it involved our own craft,” the statement signed by the Marketing and Public Affairs Manager of the Tema Port, Abena Serwaa Opoku Fosu, said.
The statement explained that the Port Control Station last Wednesday, about half past midnight, received a distress call from MV. SEASPAN DUBAI for assistance to ward off several fishing boats which had surrounded their vessel.
It said the security patrol team, which comprised the Ghana Navy, Marine Police and GPHA Security, responded timeously, cautioned and asked the said fishing boats to leave.
“At 0118HRS, MT. MARINA ‘M’, which was also at the anchorage, also called the Port Control Station for assistance to ward off a suspicious-looking fishing boat with about nine occupants.
The team again responded by cautioning and directing the boat and its occupants to row out,” the statement added.
On their way back, it said, the patrol team chanced upon another set of fishermen who had cast their nets and were fishing within the terminal 3 basins, close to a container vessel.
The GPHA said the nets were seized, and the men were cautioned and led out of the basin.
He added that “all patrol activities were halted at 0455HRS on Thursday July 27, without any incident of collision whatsoever”.
There was also a near-clash between the police and a crowd of people who had gathered at the Canoe Landing Basin where the bodies were retrieved.
The crowd prevented the police from conveying the bodies of the deceased in a police pick-up truck, arguing that their kinsmen were not criminals to be carried away as such.
The police were eventually forced to call in a hearse which conveyed the bodies to the International Maritime Hospital mortuary for autopsy and preservation.
The Commander of the Marine Police Unit in Tema, Superintendent Charles Osei, confirmed the incident at sea to the Daily Graphic and said investigations were underway to establish the identity of the boat and the cause of the incident.
The Tema Awudun Chief Fisherman, Nii Ashitey Odametey II, told the Daily Graphic that the traditional council undertook expeditions to catch particular fish for the performance of rites as part of the annual traditional Homowo festival.
He said the various stakeholders, including the GPHA and Marine Police, were aware of the expedition and that about 20 canoes were at sea for the expedition when the incident occurred.
The Chairman of the Tema Canoe Owners Association, Nii Adjiete Quaye, said they received information that a tugboat had rammed into the canoe and subsequently left the fishermen to their fate.
He said a vessel plying the anchorage that chanced upon the incident rescued the 10, turn up the capsized canoe, after which the fisherfolk realised two of their colleagues were unaccounted for.
“They then informed the rescue vessel, which had just left, but it returned and assisted to retrieve the bodies of the deceased who were found trapped in the fishing net,” Nii Quaye insisted.
The GPHA, in its statement, explained that at 01:18 a.m., MT Marina ‘M’, which was also at the anchorage, also called the Port Control Station for assistance to ward off a suspicious looking fishing boat with about nine occupants.
“On their way back, the Patrol Team chanced upon another set of fishermen who had cast their nets and were fishing within the terminal 3 basin, close to a container vessel.
The nets were seized, and the men were cautioned and led out of the basin after which all patrol activities were halted at 04:55 a.m. on Thursday, July 27, without any incident of collision whatsoever,” the statement said.
The Tema Metropolitan Security Committee (MESEC) has set up a five-member committee to probe the circumstances that led to the incident.
The committee, which is made up of representatives from the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) of the police, the Ghana National Fire Service, the National Investigations Bureau, the National Disaster Management Organisation (NADMO) and the Tema Metropolitan Assembly, has five days to submit its report.
The Tema Municipal Chief Executive, Yohane Amarh Ashitey, who also led the Metropolitan Security Council to commiserate with the fishermen and the families of the deceased, pledged that anyone found to have deliberately played a role in the incident would be prosecuted.