‘Like white sheep ready for slaughter’: The suicidal plight of crew detained in Angola

The NGO Human Rights At Sea (HRAS) has issued a shocking 18-page report on the plight of the suicidal former crew of a platform supply vessel detained in Angola since March.

The former crew of the Sutton Tide are currently facing a criminal trial in Soyo, Angola for allegedly being complicit in the theft of fuel despite not being arrested. The report contains powerful images of the desperate men, some of whom have admitted suicidal tendencies while being held captive.

The Sutton Tide is owned by Sonatide, a joint venture between Tidewater and Sonangol, the national oil company of Angola.

“The suspected crew’s basic human rights have been breached with lack of liberty, a lack of legal representation, lack of proper access to justice, lack of ability to freely leave Angola, and lack of family life due to retention in Soyo, Angola,” HRAS noted, adding that throughout their ordeal the suspected crew have been denied proper legal representation, denied adequate procedural information and detailed explanations about the charges they are facing.

“They have not been provided with suitable welfare support, and they have been subject to contradictory evidential submissions during what appears to be a superficial investigation with limited evidential corroboration,” HRAS maintained.

While not under arrest, at the time of writing the crew have been prevented from leaving Soyo for three months due to a non-issue by the crew management company, Sonatide, of the requisite sign-off paperwork, and despite not being subject to any explicit court orders restricting their movements.

Throughout their enforced stay in Soyo, the mental health of the predominantly Ukranian crew has been damaged by the indeterminate nature of their confinement. Already, one crewmember is purported to have attempted suicide, with other crew members displaying increasingly concerning suicidal tendencies.

The report contains quotes from the crew.

“I am optimist but I also read my present situation very clear. I don’t like to kill myself but between fast and slow death I choose fast,” one man was quoted as saying, while another said: “We are here already almost three months, we survive many bad things, we are unprotected and for local people we are white sheep ready for slaughter.”

Tidewater’s Sonatide office have allegedly insisted that the company is not obliged to provide for the crew, and has refused to support the crew during their stay in Soyo. In addition, since March 24 the crew have not been paid, and they are facing increasing legal and accommodation costs. Current legal expenses are already approximately $15,000. The majority of these costs have had to be paid by the seafarers’ families.

Sam Chambers

Starting out with the Informa Group in 2000 in Hong Kong, Sam Chambers became editor of Maritime Asia magazine as well as East Asia Editor for the world’s oldest newspaper, Lloyd’s List. In 2005 he pursued a freelance career and wrote for a variety of titles including taking on the role of Asia Editor at Seatrade magazine and China correspondent for Supply Chain Asia. His work has also appeared in The Economist, The New York Times, The Sunday Times and The International Herald Tribune.


  1. Has anyone tried to obtain some official comments from Tidewater? So far this is a very onesided story and I am sure there is more to it than what we hear from the crew.

    1. Dear Sir I will be shame to trying to find theory of sedition from Your soft sofa at home

  2. Main purpose of this report is to drawn attention and to help people which have been pushed in serous illegal situation.
    Thanks for Your comments but I will be very SHAME to trying to find theory of sedition will I seating in my home i soft chair.

    1. I do not see how your comments has anything to do with my question? You can be a shame as much as you like, but since you know nothing about who I am or where I am your comments seems pointless and like you maybe should reconsider your comments before posting them?!

    1. Hi Sam – there are two pictures in the report referring to the purported suicide attempt (page 9). Looks more like the crew member fell and hit his eyebrow.

      1. This is in general a very sensationalistic story. I am sure that the crew is being held against their will and without proper legal representation and without the expected assistance. However the media seems to focus on this story only from one side and not get all the facts.

  3. Angola, especially Luanda is now avoided by many drybulk owners/operators
    as a result of excessive alleged cargo claims and unwarranted detentions

  4. The article did not mention that the vessels officers are being detained for selling 110 m3 of fuel which is known as monkey business in the offshore supply vessel industry. I worked in Angola for 10 years. I highly suspect that the officers of the Sutton Tide are in the clink because they did not pay the local Angolan crew their expected cut or did not pay them at all and one of them blew the whistle on them. I heard two of the officers are Croation. The Congo river is the Northern border of Angola and Soyo is a town at the mouth of the Congo.

  5. If a ship’s officer has been involved in corruption, there ought to be procedures to handle this. These procedures should respect labour rights and human rights irrespective of whether the ship is operating in either Angola or the UK. There is no justification for illegal confinement of the vessel’s crew.

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