Mexican authorities have released the captain of a Cyprus-flag bulk carrier after being acquitted of drug traffic-related charges and freed, having been denied a trial and in jail for the past 20 months.
Nineteen Filipinos and three Polish seafarers were detained on July 28, 2019, after large quantities of cocaine were found onboard the ship and faced drug trafficking charges.
The 32,000-tonne UBC Savannah, owned by Limassol-based Athena Marine, departed from Barranquilla, Colombia, on July 23, 2019, and docked at Altamira port in the Gulf of Mexico five days later.
During an inspection, 227 packages of suspected cocaine weighing 225 kilos were found stashed away, hidden in a cargo hold buried in ore rock minerals.
A few days later, the entire crew was released, but Polish captain Andrzej Lasota was kept in custody and formally arrested.
Limassol-based ship-management company Intership Navigation issued a statement saying, “after 592 days behind bars, Captain Andrzej Lasota is finally free.”
“The news of Captain Lasota’s release came as a tremendous relief to his family, Intership and both the Polish and Cypriot authorities who have been campaigning tirelessly for his release,” the company said.
Internship said Lasota was arrested on the grounds of alleged “negligence in failing to be aware that the ship he commanded may have been carrying prohibited substances”.
After numerous hearings were postponed, denying him the chance to defend himself, Captain Lasota has, at last, found justice, the company said.
“This case has highlighted, once again, the injustice of criminalising innocent seafarers.”
The Deputy Shipping Ministry of Cyprus said although the ship’s crew briefed the Mexican authorities on the location of the drugs, (Andrzej Lasota) was nevertheless arrested and detained by the Mexican authorities.
“From the first moment of his arrest, the Republic of Cyprus made diplomatic representations to the Government of Mexico with verbal communications through the diplomatic channel, as well as through the delegation of the European Union in Mexico seeking the release of Captain Lasota.”
The ministry also raised the issue internationally within the Legal Committee of the International Maritime Organisation.
At the same time, Deputy Minister Vassilis Dimitriades “made efforts in cooperation with Cypriot and Polish MEPs, to raise awareness within the European Union and particularly the European Parliament and the European External Action Service. In close cooperation with the ship-owning company, every effort was made to ensure that Captain Lasota had a fair and objective trial.”
The shipping ministry said that after communication with Lasota’s family, Cyprus secured the Honourary Consul’s participation during the trial as an observer.
“The criminalisation of the seafaring profession is one of the most serious threats facing seafarers worldwide.
“Whenever it can, Cyprus raises the issue in all relevant international and European fora, expressing its determination to eliminate the phenomenon of unfair treatment of seafarers and also in court proceedings, in accordance with the fundamental principles of international human rights law,” the ministry said.