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CPS statement on decision to discontinue the prosecution of two men for merchant shipping offences

|News, International and organised crime

Joanne Jakymec, Chief Crown Prosecutor said: “On Sunday 25 October 2020 a distress signal was sent from the Nave Andromeda oil tanker once it had reached UK waters. At an earlier stage in the journey seven stowaways had made themselves known to the captain and crew and the vessel made unsuccessful attempts to dock in other jurisdictions. Initial accounts provided to UK authorities suggested that the crew had been threatened.

“Following the intervention of the British armed forces seven men were arrested. An investigation 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 CPS was asked to make a decision on 24 December 2020 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. 

“The threshold test is used when a full file of evidence is not yet available but the seriousness of the case justifies an immediate decision and there are reasonable grounds to believe that continuing the investigation will provide evidence that would give a realistic prospect of conviction. 

“We assessed the available evidence and considered a range of possible offences including attempting to exercise control of a ship, making threats to kill and destroying or endangering the safety of ships.

“As part of this review we had to consider witness accounts, where the offences happened, and preliminary advice from a maritime expert. 

“We took the decision, based upon everything we knew at the time, to charge two men with the offence of conduct endangering ships under s.58 Merchant Shipping Act 1995.

“However, while initial reports had indicated there was a risk of destruction or serious damage to the ship and risk of harm to the crew, additional mobile phone footage made available to us by the police subsequently, together with further expert analysis of the evidence, cast doubt on whether the ship or the crew were in fact put in danger. 

“As the evidence, when made available and fully considered, could not show that the ship or crew were threatened while in UK waters, the legal test for the offence of conduct endangering ships under s.58 Merchant Shipping Act 1995 was no longer met and we discontinued the case.”

The evidence

On 24 December 2020 police approached the CPS with a partial file of evidence asking for charges to be considered against two suspects. The same day two men were charged with the offence of conduct endangering ships under s.58 Merchant Shipping Act 1995.

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 our jurisdiction.
  • Maritime expert report. After assessing a number of 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. 

The decision

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, we 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.

CPS function

The CPS's function is not to decide whether a person is guilty of a criminal offence, but to make fair, independent and objective assessments about whether it is appropriate to present charges for the criminal court to consider.

The CPS assessment of any case is not in any sense a finding of, or implication of, any guilt or criminal conduct. It is not a finding of fact, which can only be made by a court, but rather an assessment of what it might be possible to prove to a court, in accordance with the Code for Crown Prosecutors.

Notes to editors

  • Joanne Jakymec is the Chief Crown Prosecutor for CPS Wessex 

Further reading

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