A leaky freighter, seeking a port of refuge for thousands of sick and weary Liberian refugees, limped back to Ghana Monday and was given permission to restock desperately needed food and medical supplies.
"We are doing nothing apart from this," said Ghana's deputy foreign minister, Mohamed Ibn Chambas. "We want to stock the boat adequately to enable it to sail to anywhere it wants to go."The Nigerian freighter Bulk Challenge, carrying 3,000 to 4,000 refugees fleeing violence in their homeland, has been seeking sanctuary in West Africa since it set sail May 5.
The ship tried to dock at Takoradi port in western Ghana on Sunday. But Ghanaian authorities, fed up with harboring tens of thousands of refugees from Liberia's 6-year-old civil war, initially blocked it with large floating cranes.
Authorities later relented, and the ship docked at Takoradi on Sunday evening. But the Bulk Challenge was only allowed to anchor to refuel and then was forced to embark on a three-day journey to Lagos, Nigeria.
Authorities did not allow any of the refugees suffering from dehydration and severe diarrhea to get off the ship for medical care.
A Ghanaian naval source said Sunday that gunshots rang from the Bulk Challenge and that authorities were afraid Liberian faction fighters were on board. A tug operator at the port Monday said he saw the bodies of two men being removed from the ship.
The ship turned back to Ghana because generator trouble cut off its lights Sunday night, said Phil Doherty of Doctors Without Borders, an international relief group that has a small vessel trailing the Bulk Challenge.
Doherty said that when the ship set sail again Sunday night, there was only enough food for one day and water was running short. There is only one toilet on board and people were forced to defecate on deck. A woman died Sunday from hemorrhaging and Ghanaian authorities removed her body from the ship.
"It's just getting worse," Doherty said. "We have no confirmation of specific diseases, but we've known for many days of severe diarrhea among many of the people."
The European Union urged West African governments today to accept the refugees and offered to provide emergency aid.
"I am deeply shocked at the sight of thousands of helpless and hopeless civilians who are being sent from one port to another and denied the right to proper refuge and assistance," said Emma Bonino, the trade bloc's humanitarian aid commissioner.
Meanwhile, about 1,000 people who fled Monrovia on the merchant vessel Victory Reefer were allowed to come within one mile of the port in Freetown, Sierra Leone. Most were Leonians who had escaped fled to neighboring Liberia during their five-year civil war.
Passengers will be allowed to leave the boat after authorities determine if any of them are armed Liberian fighters, naval sources said.