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Human cargo delivered to Felixstowe

PUBLISHED: 00:55 08 June 2005 | UPDATED: 05:54 02 March 2010

A BOAT load of suspected illegal immigrants rescued from the Mediterranean Sea have been brought to Felixstowe, The Evening Star can reveal today.

The group of 27 refugees, mostly from Somalia, were thought to have been trying to cross from North Africa in search of a better life in Europe.

A BOAT load of suspected illegal immigrants rescued from the Mediterranean Sea have been brought to Felixstowe, The Evening Star can reveal today.

The group of 27 refugees, mostly from Somalia, were thought to have been trying to cross from North Africa in search of a better life in Europe.

However their tiny craft ran into difficulties and they were plucked from the sea by the crew of a container ship.

Dock workers today questioned why the ship then travelled for five days, and over 1,000 miles all the way to Suffolk.

Immigration officials and police secured the Port of Felixstowe on Saturday afternoon in readiness for the arrival of the MV Clementine Maersk.

In what is thought to be the first operation of its kind at the port, the officers set up a security perimeter around the ship after being alerted by the master of the vessel that he was carrying the 27 after rescuing them on Tuesday .

A Home Office spokeswoman said: "The master of the vessel had asked to put the individuals ashore at Felixstowe as this was his first scheduled port of call.

"They were met by immigration officers to ascertain their immigration status.

"Our immediate concern was their welfare. Everybody is well."

The 24 Somalis, two Tunisians and one Palestinian were held on the 347-metre long vessel at the port's Trinity Terminal until they were interviewed by immigration officers. They were then transferred to an immigration detention centre by coach.

Unloading of the three-year-old Danish-registered vessel, which is owned by the AP Moller-Maersk Group and is one of the largest container ships in the world, able to carry 6,600 containers, was delayed for about four hours.

Maersk spokesman Jakob Larsson said the vessel had sailed from Tanjong Pelepas, Malaysia, and through the Suez Canal into the Mediterranean when the crew spotted the refugees off Sicily.

"The captain said the occupants of the small boat looked to be in distress and so he decided to take them on board," he said.

"In these circumstances the master of the vessel decides what to do and as Felixstowe was the next port of call it was decided to hand the refugees over to the authorities there."

The Clementine Maersk needs deepwater to berth and cannot just pull into any port it chooses because of the restrictions on quay depth and also because berths are booked months in advance.

Paul Davey, spokesman for the Port of Felixstowe, said the port had been warned of the arrival of the group.

He said: "We knew the immigration service would be there to meet them."

Despite the interviews conducted aboard the ship the immigration status of members of the group remains unclear.

Dock workers who were due to unload the vessel on its arrival at 5.50pm were told the 27 had been picked up off the coast of Africa.

One worker said: "All the port police were there. They wouldn't let us anywhere near the ship.

"Obviously they tried to hush it up because the coach left through the back instead of coming through the quay."

About 50 workers were due to unload the Clementine Maersk's cargo when it arrived. Some are now questioning why the ship was allowed to travel from the Mediterranean to Felixstowe with the group aboard.

One worker said: "We heard they didn't want to mess their schedule up.

"If the agreement was they were supposed to take them to the first port of call they sailed past so many ports it's unbelievable."

However the Home Office said it was left to the master of the vessel to decide which port suspected illegal immigrants are taken to.

The spokeswoman said: "It is at the discretion of the master to choose whether to continue the voyage to the (intended) port of call or to stop at the next port.

"Obviously if we could decide we might say they should go into the next safe port rather than to Britain. It's not our decision to make."

The Clementine Maersk was expected to leave Felixstowe today for Rotterdam.


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