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Liberian Refugees Disembark, Leaky Freighter Back At Sea After Warning

A freighter that carried Liberians from their war-torn capital only to be rejected by neighboring countries was back at sea Saturday, this time carrying the remaining Nigerian passengers to their homeland.

The Bulk Challenge left the Ghanaian port of Takoradi en route to Lagos after a stern warning from authorities who allowed the leaking, overcrowded vessel into port Tuesday and accepted its cargo of nearly 2,000 Liberian refugees.

“We warned the captain and other like-minded captains who sacrifice professional competence on the altar of profitability that Ghana will not deal leniently with them,” security officials said in a statement.

The ship’s captain, Roland Pudie of Nigeria, has denied wrongdoing and said African peacekeepers in Liberia forced him to accept the passengers, despite the freighter’s mechanical and structural problems. It spent 10 days at sea, in danger of sinking, with little food or water, one toilet, and a lifeboat for just 39 people before being allowed into Takoradi.

When the Bulk Challenge left for Lagos on Friday evening, after repairs, it carried about 240 people.

In Sierra Leone, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees was negotiating with authorities who refused to let 142 Liberians on board the Victory Reefer disembark, said UNHCR spokesman Ahmad Fawzi.

Monrovia’s port was under heavy guard by African peacekeepers, who were trying to prevent looting at port warehouses where about 20,000 metric tons of food aid is stashed.

Liberians began heading to the port last month after the 6-1/2-year-old war spread into the capital, once a safe haven. The fighting began April 6 after government troops tried to arrest ousted Cabinet minister and warlord Roosevelt Johnson on murder charges.