THE CAPTAIN of Atiyah Ex Alisam, a semi-submarine vessel, and one of the crew members who were arrested in connection with the importation of 414 slabs of cocaine with a street value of $60million from British Guyana, have been incarcerated for 20 and 15 years respectively.
The captain, Miller Ronald O’Neil, and Seth Grant, a seaman, who were part of the five persons put before an Accra High Court on charges of conspiracy to commit crime, importation and possession of narcotic drug, were convicted and sentenced based on their own confessions.
The other three, Percival Junior Court, a Guyanese engineer, Samuel Monty and Singh Primchand, seamen, would go through full trial.
The sentences were given after a field test had been conducted in open court by Martin Adarkwa Yiadom, the head of Drugs and Forensic laboratory at Ghana Standards Authority to establish that the substances they had brought into the country were cocaine.
Miller Ronald O’Neil and Seth Grant, were sentenced on each count to 20 years and 15 years respectively, but the sentences are to run concurrently according to the court presided over by Justice C.J Hoenyenuga, a justice of the Court of Appeal, who is sitting with additional responsibility as a High Court judge.
The judge observed that the captain deserved a harsher sentence because he had much knowledge of the offence and also failed to set a good example worthy of emulation by others. The convicts are to serve their sentences at the Nsawam Maximum Prison.
US DEA Steps In
Meanwhile, the court granted certain officials from the Drug Enforcement Agency in the US, the right to take 30 randomly selected samples each containing a gram of cocaine from the courtroom for further investigations in the States.
This was to help the agency conduct investigations to track down the kingpins.
The court said the request was based on two letters from the Narcotics Control Board (NACOB) and the US Embassy as well as an explanation given by one of the US officials, Laura Michelle Jones, a Forensic Chemist from Virginia, as to why the samples were needed.
The letter from NACOB explained that the officials were to assist wider surveillance work on how the cartels got to West Africa.
Madam Michelle Jones also stated that they were invited by the US Embassy to check the purity of the cocaine to determine the origin of the substance. They are to investigate the geographical location of the drug and where they were being sent to.
Before then, officials from NACOB were ordered to count the 414 slabs of cocaine in open court.
After the sentencing, the court, upon the request of Asiamah Sampong, the prosecutor, ordered the destruction of 413 slabs of cocaine under the supervision of the registrar of the court, media, NACOB officials, security agencies, Ghana Standards Authority, Chief State Attorney, Environmental Protection Agency and the judge himself.
One of the slabs, according to Justice Hoenyenugah, is to be kept in the custody of the registrar till the final determination of the fate of the other three alleged accomplices. The three had pleaded guilty with explanation and on December 13, the court rejected their explanation.
However, yesterday, Justice Hoenyenugah stated that after carefully going through their explanations, he realised their explanation amounted to a plea of not guilty. He therefore set aside the earlier plea of guilty and stated that the three should go through full scale trial.
The case has been adjourned to January 10 for sentencing.
Before pronouncing the sentence, Captain O’Neil pleaded with the court to deal leniently with him after accepting full responsibility for his action: “I took the job to offset financial debt but now I have lost everything I cherished. I know at age 55 there is no way I can start life afresh but as I said from the first day, I place myself at the mercy of the court”.
He confessed being jailed a year in Holland 18 years ago when he was arrested with a half kilogram of cocaine.
Seth Grant, the second convict, who is a Ghanaian based in Brazil, wanted the court to change his plea to guilty with explanation, but that was declined by the court.
He explained to the court that he was hired to send a boat to the high seas but had no knowledge that the substance offloaded into the boat was cocaine. However, the court informed him that he had pleaded guilty and was too late to change his plea.
The ship with registration number 000471, carrying the cocaine, was travelling from Guyana when it was arrested in the third week of November, 2013 and escorted by Ghana Naval Ship, Yaa Asantewaa, to the Sekondi Naval Base.
The accused persons, together with the substances, were flown to Accra and handed over to the National Security and the Narcotics Control Board for investigations.
The vessel was from British Guyana-George Town.
Mr. Asiamah Sampong said security agencies, including the Ghana Navy, the Police and National Security were alerted and on November 19, 2013 the security agencies, in collaboration with Western Naval Base in Takoradi, intercepted the vessel in Ghana’s waters.
A search on the vessel revealed 21 fertilizer sacks smeared with engine oil containing 414 slabs of the compressed substances. A field test conducted indicated that the substances were cocaine.
The prosecution said O’Neil, the captain, said the drugs were to be delivered in Ghana but they could not mention the name of the recipient, adding that he had the contact of the recipient.
According to O’Neil, the drugs were to be delivered on the high seas for a fee of $50,000 while the other crew members were to take various sums of monies.
By Mary Anane