Liberia’s Maritime Commissioner Eugene Nagbe said on Sunday that at least seven people are yet to be accounted for, after a Liberian-registered cargo ship sank off the coast of the country.
In spite of being under a Liberia Maritime Authority detention order for failing to meet basic safety requirements, Niko Ivanka vessel departed the capital Monrovia on Saturday morning for a port in the country’s south.
While addressing the press, Nagbe said the vessel sent out a distress signal that afternoon notifying the coast guard that it had taken on water.
However, by the time authorities arrived, it had already partially sunk.
“We are commissioning an investigation into how a vessel that was detained for failure to meet rudimentary safety requirements managed to get on the sea with passengers and cargo,” Nagbe said.
“But that investigation is subsidiary to the ongoing search and rescue effort,” he added.
Nagbe mentioned that the vessel owner, a Chinese national, was arrested on Sunday afternoon and is now in police custody.
Teams from Liberia’s coast guard intensified their search operations in nearby shores and riverbanks in collaboration with a ship from anti-whaling organization Sea Shepherd into Sunday afternoon.
Although the ship’s manifest showed 18 people on board at the time of departure,Liberia’s Deputy Information Minister Jarlaywah Tonpoe said the actual number of missing passengers remains unknown.
Liberian Authorities suspect that more could have been on board, given that the vessel was not licensed to carry passengers in the first place.
“The vessel was not a passenger-authorised vessel and yet it had passengers on board,” Tonpoe said.
“So in the coming days,investigation will establish how many people were on board.”
Among those listed on the manifest was a Swedish captain, a Chinese crew member, and nine members of West Africa’s regional school examinations body.