In a short press release issued Thursday night, São Tomé and Príncipe’s Maritime and Port Institute guarantees that there is no record of a vessel of this name in its documents. The country’s Coast Guard also affirms that it has not detected any ship with the name “Rotterdam” in São Tomé and Príncipe’s territorial waters.
The press release was a blow to relatives of the crew, who had already begun celebrating the imminent return of their loved ones, as ship owner Isaac Mascarenhas has guaranteed would be the case. Vicência, the wife of crew member Alfredo Bandeira, told A Semana Online that on Thursday afternoon she received a telephone call from Mascarenhas confirming that the ship was in São Tomé and Príncipe and that the sailors were all doing well, adding that they would soon be returning to Cape Verde.
“I never lost hope that he would be found alive. My husband is an honest and hard-working man who accepted the job on the Rotterdam because he has five children to raise. My husband’s never been involved in drugs like they’re saying,” she said.
The shipping company, after the initial euphoria caused by the news that the ship had been found, has retracted his statements and says he contacted the crew’s families based exclusively on an article in one of Cape Verde’s newspapers. “I’m not aware of anything. Everything I told the crew’s relatives came from what I read in the newspaper. I haven’t spoken with any of the sailors and I can’t confirm if they’re alive. I also can’t confirm that the ship was transporting drugs, of if it changed its name and color after docking in São Tomé,” affirmed Isaac Mascarenhas, who now acknowledges that he may have acted somewhat impulsively when he called the crew members’ families.
The ship Rotterdam disappeared on September 8 after departing from Praia sea port for Boa Vista carrying soft drinks, on a night in which Cape Verde was under the effects of tropical storm Humberto. After several days of searches without coming across any signs of the ship, authorities called off the search. The crew members’ relatives claim that since then they have not been contacted by their loved ones.
As such, the news that the vessel may have arrived in São Tomé and Príncipe with more than a ton of cocaine on board took Cape Verde by surprise. According to the article published this week in one of Cape Verde’s newspapers, the crew allegedly was aware of the illegal cargo it was carrying and, as a result, strayed from the declared route. Vicência Bandeira, however, is categorical: “my husband would never get involved in anything illegal. I don’t believe it.”