The UK Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) has released a statement on its decision to discontinue the prosecution of two Nigerian nationals in connection with an attempt to hijack a commercial vessel in UK waters in October of last year.
On December 24, 2020, police approached the CPS with a partial file of evidence asking for charges to be considered against two suspects for the attempted hijacking of the Liberian-flagged oil tanker Nave Andromeda in the English Channel off the Isle of Wight on October 25.
Following the intervention of British armed forces, seven men were arrested. An investigation then followed into exactly what had taken place during the course of the ship’s journey.
The suspects were bailed by Hampshire police and held in immigration detention facilities whilst the investigation continued.
The same day that the CPS was contacted by police regarding the filing of charges, two men were charged with the offence of conduct endangering ships under s.58 Merchant Shipping Act 1995.
Joanne Jakymec, Chief Crown Prosecutor for CPS Wessex, said that the CPS was asked to make a decision on December 24 as to whether any charges could be brought because two of the men were due to be released from immigration detention and posed a flight risk. As a result, the decision to charge these two men was made on the threshold test.
As part of the initial decision to charge on the threshold test and subsequent review of the case once further evidence was available, prosecutors considered:
- Witness accounts. Initial accounts had suggested the crew had been threatened by the suspects but when they were formally interviewed, members of the crew said they had not been endangered or threatened.
- Location. There was some suggestion that threats may have been made but this had occurred outside of UK waters which are out of CPS jurisdiction.
- Maritime expert report. After assessing mobile phone footage and a number of other factors to determine whether the vessel was endangered, the expert highlighted a number of areas that ultimately cast doubt on whether the ship or crew were put in danger by the actions of the stowaways.
Offences considered by the CPS included:
- Hijacking. There was no evidence to indicate the stowaways had any intention to seize control of the vessel, so it was not possible to pursue a charge of attempting to exercise control of a ship.
- Threats to kill. Witness accounts did not indicate there had been threats to kill.
- Destroying or endangering the safety of ships. Initial accounts suggested that the vessel may have been endangered in line with the legislation for this offence. However, further witness statements combined with the expert maritime report revealed inconsistencies with this assertion. As the evidence could not show the ship or crew were endangered, the legal test for the offence of conduct endangering ships under s.58 Merchant Shipping Act 1995 was no longer met.
In light of the above facts, the CPS concluded there was no longer a realistic prospect of a conviction for the offence of conduct endangering ships under s.58 Merchant Shipping Act 1995 and discontinued the case.
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