Stowaway: A Man With No Country

From port to port, he is trapped on a ship.
By Gaiutra Bahadur
The Philadelphia Inquirer

A stowaway aboard a ship that docked last week in the Port of Camden is now a virtual prisoner on the vessel, says its captain, because no country will claim him.

The Trubezh arrived Jan. 20 bearing unexpected cargo, said Joe Balzano, executive director of the South Jersey Port Corp. A young man had stolen in with the cocoa beans the ship picked up in Ivory Coast.

Now he is stuck on the vessel indefinitely as it navigates from port to port.

The stowaway carried a French passport identifying him as Charles Philippe Zata, born in the Paris suburb of Nanterre on Oct. 2, 1985. The passport contained an expired entry visa that appeared to have been issued by Ivory Coast, said a source who interviewed Zata, but who asked that his name be withheld because he was not authorized to speak to the press.

Zata also had a card that local Ivorean immigrants said typically is issued to government workers in Ivory Coast. It described him as an unmarried driver from the port city of Abidjan.

None of the documents did Zata any good, however, when the owner of the Trubezh flew him back to the West African nation under orders from U.S. immigration agents.

Zata was denied entry to Ivory Coast and returned to Philadelphia on Jan. 22, where he arrived without any papers.
U.S. officials immediately transported Zata to the Trubezh, which departed from Camden on Tuesday night and reached Savannah, Ga., on Saturday.

Capt. Vitaly Teplov, speaking by phone from the ship, sounded bewildered by the return of the stowaway.

“The Customs and Border Protection, they come on board,” he said. “They say to me, ‘Stowaway stay on board. OK. Stay on board.’ The one question: Why stay on board without any documents?”

Teplov said Zata appeared to have been on a hunger strike that ended Thursday night. No one aboard the ship speaks French well enough to ask Zata why he refused to eat for two days, Teplov said.

The Trubezh has an almost entirely Ukrainian crew. However, it flies the flag of Belize; is managed by a company based in Cyprus called Crostis, and is registered in the Marshall Islands.
Each day the Trubezh sits in port, Crostis pays two armed guards to watch over Zata, who Teplov said was being kept in a cabin near the ship’s chief officer.

“Legally, the obligation of the owner is to treat stowaways humanely,” said Bob Degen, a lawyer with Fox Rothschild, a Philadelphia law firm with a large maritime practice.

It also is the owner’s obligation to figure out the stowaway’s true identity.

The French Embassy in Washington maintains that Zata probably is not a French citizen, and says his passport does not appear genuine.

“It doesn’t look like a French passport number,” said Agnès von der Mühll, a spokeswoman for the embassy.

Capt. Anatoly Mytrokhin, an official with Crostis, said the company was trying to resolve the situation.

Teplov said he was trying to arrange for Zata to be examined by doctors in Savannah. After that, it’s unclear what’s in store for him. The ship also will stop in New Orleans and Houston before it heads back to Ivory Coast.

Zata did not ask for political asylum, which would have gotten him a hearing before an immigration judge here. As a result, U.S. authorities do not decide his fate.

“They look at it as the ship’s problem,” Degen said.

The owners of vessels bear the responsibility, and the financial burden, to send stowaways home. Ship owners often also pay for armed guards while in U.S. ports with stowaways aboard. If the stowaway escapes, the owner is fined about $3,000.

Rather than bear the expense, some officers have ordered stowaways cast overboard.

“The law created incentives for stowaways never to make it ashore,” said Doug Stevenson, director of the Center for Seafarer Rights in New York.

The center defended the captain and first mate of the cargo ship MC Ruby, who were sentenced to life in prison for the 1992 murder of eight Ghanaian stowaways. The men were beaten with iron rods, shot, and dumped off the coast of Portugal.

The case prompted the U.S. government to limit to 15 days the time that ship owners must pay for the detention of stowaways who ask for political asylum. There is no limit to the time owners shoulder the cost for stowaways who do not ask for asylum.

Tragedies on the high seas still happen, however. Earlier this month, three Ukrainian sailors were charged with murder for allegedly forcing seven men found hiding in the pipes of the African Kalahari to jump into the waters off Durban, South Africa. Two stowaways drowned; five swam to safety.

Ivory Coast is a divided country occupied in the north by rebels. A three-year-old cease-fire between the rebels and government forces was broken earlier this month. The county also is wracked by anxieties over immigration from neighboring African nations.
“Zata is an Ivorean name,” said Franck Bamba, a spokesman for the Embassy of the Ivory Coast in Washington, “But I cannot certify this guy is from Côte d’Ivoire. A lot of people fake papers.”

Bamba and von der Mühll of the French Embassy said U.S. authorities had not contacted either of their consulates.
A ship owner stuck with a stowaway no country will accept has few options. Stephen Vengrow, a New York lawyer who represents vessel owners, said they sometimes turned to the World Service Authority, a private group in Washington that issues “world citizen” passports to refugees.

The group was founded by Garry Davis, a World War II bomber pilot disillusioned by the war who renounced his U.S. citizenship in 1948 to live as a “citizen of the world.” Its passports are accepted by Burkina Faso, Ecuador, Mauritania, Tanzania, Togo and Zambia.

At the request of the insurance companies for vessel owners, the World Service has provided passports to at least five stowaways since 1992.

“For some people it can be a quick fix,” said David Gallup, the group’s current leader. “And for some people, it’s the only solution.”

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