Four Ghanaian men, whom gardaí believe may have been trafficked to work in the fishing industry, have been taken into the care of the State.
The men arrived in Belfast at the end of January believing they would be working on British trawlers. They say they were met at Belfast airport on January 29th and driven to Howth, Dublin. They worked on a number of British and Irish-registered boats out of Howth, Dunmore East, Co Waterford, and Rossaveal, Co Galway, as well as from Ardglass and Kilkeel, Co Down.
Joshua Baafi (36), John Ninson (42), Noel Adabblah (31) and James Effirim (41) have been staying at Balseskin reception centre in Dublin since Friday, having made contact with the International Transport Federation (ITF) in Liberty Hall on Thursday.
Holders of seaman books issued by the Ghana Maritime Authority, they say they each paid an agent 6,500 Ghanaian cedi (€1,187) to place them in fishing jobs in the UK. They have “letters of invitation” and “guarantee” letters to work for North Coast Trawlers Ltd, a sea-food company based in Ardglass.
Mr Baafi and Mr Ninson’s letters said they would be working on the Merchant Fishing Vessel (MFV) Ability “at the port of Belfast”, while Mr Adabblah and Mr Effrim’s said they would be on the MFV Lady Rita, out of Belfast. “We confirm that the crewman will be met upon arrival at Belfast airport. We will arrange all formalities during the crew member’s stay in the UK and agree to pay all costs and fines including visa on arrival and repatriation,” say the letters.
A mobile phone number for a "contact person", named as Patrick Cody, is provided. The letters are signed by Alan Price, director of North Coast Trawlers, Ltd. Mr Price is director of fishing companies based in the Republic and in Northern Ireland, including Price Trawlers Ltd and Rockabill Seafood Ltd. The UK transit visa gives them leave to enter the UK for the purposes of reaching their boat. It states: "No recourse to public purse. Must leave the UK on the ship MFV".
The men’s employment contracts say they will be paid £1,000 per month and employed for “12 months (+/- 3) upon mutual consent”. The first month’s pay is to be held by the skipper. Working hours, sick-pay and holidays are not mentioned. These are signed by the men and Alan Price.
They say during February and March they were frequently moved by car to ports around the island, sometimes at night and not knowing where they were. They frequently worked 20 hours without breaks, they say. They were paid and sent the money home. Three have families and children.
Most of the time Mr Baafi and Mr Ninson were on different trawlers from Mr Adabblah and Mr Effirim. At the end of March, the four men spent over a week on board the MFV Lady Rita in Howth painting and repairing it for sale.
They said Mr Price told them on April 10th he would have no fishing work for them for months as trawlers were being repaired and sold. “We said we cannot work for another company because our visa was to work with him,” Mr Baafi said.
When they texted Mr Cody on April 11th, he told them to “get off the boat”, they say, showing a WhatsApp exchange to back up their claim.
They went to Liberty Hall, where they met ITF inspector Ken Fleming, who put them up in his garage at his home in Finglas. Gardaí arranged for their accommodation on Friday.
They have given statements to the Garda anti-human trafficking unit and are being supported by the HSE.
If gardaí feel they have sufficient evidence to pursue a case, they will be given leave to remain as witnesses, and will be allowed to work.
Asked what they would like to happen, they say they want justice.
“To go home like this, with no money – it would be a shame,” said Mr Baafi. “We want justice for what happened. We didn’t break our contract.
“We came here to work, to improve our situation. They think we are stupid people. We are intelligent people. We are shocked this can happen.”
A Garda spokesman said: “The Human Trafficking Investigation and Coordination Unit at the Garda National Protective Services Bureau is assisting four persons as a result of a referral from the International Transport Federation.”
Mr Cody, contacted on the number provided on the men’s letters of invitation, denied any knowledge of the men. Mr Price did not respond to phone messages, texts or emails on Sunday.