Thursday, 31 January 2008

Liberia judge probes bribery in coup plot verdict

MONROVIA (Reuters) - A Liberian jury has convicted two ex-army officers of treason for plotting a coup last year but a judge began an inquiry on Wednesday into whether prosecutors bribed jurors, officials and court documents said. The jury convicted former General Charles Julu, who led a previous coup attempt in 1994 during Liberia's civil war, and ex-Colonel Andrew Dorbor on Tuesday over a plot unearthed by the west African country's intelligence services last year. Amid chaotic scenes in court, Judge Charles Williams said he would investigate defence allegations that prosecutors had given each juror $800 to encourage them to convict the pair, the official court record from Tuesday's hearing showed. "I remember that prior to Christmas, the county attorney approached me in my office to say that the government was contemplating giving the jurors $150 for their present as a Christmas bonus. They even offered it to me," he continued. Williams began a hearing into the bribery allegations -- a sort of trial within a trial -- on Wednesday that was expected to continue on Thursday, the clerk of the court told Reuters. News of the coup plot last year stirred fears of a return to political instability after the 2005 election of President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, a Harvard-trained former World Bank economist, as Africa's first elected woman head of state. However, many Liberians questioned how serious a risk the coup plot had posed, especially after a huge ammunition cache the authorities said they had found during their investigations turned out to be useless scrap metal destined for recycling. A key piece of evidence released by authorities shortly after the arrests was a video recording of Dorbor and Julu's cousin talking to a military officer from neighbouring Ivory Coast about how to transport weapons from there into Liberia. During initial questioning, Dorbor implicated Julu and George Koukou, who had served as head of the national assembly during a post-war transitional administration. Johnson-Sirleaf pardoned Koukou mid-trial on Monday, citing a need for national reconciliation, during her annual State of the Nation address before both chambers of parliament. She said in her speech she would allow the justice system to run its course in other prosecutions which were at a more advanced stage than that of Koukou. The small West African country faces huge struggles as it struggles to rebuild infrastructure and public services, including its law enforcement and judicial systems, after a 14-year civil war that ended in 2003.

Wednesday, 30 January 2008

Farewell Tenerife

At 2pm today we slipped our moorings and sailed into the open sea on a heading south west en route for Monrovia, Liberia. We are currently sailing in choppy seas along the south coast of the Tenerife, and soon we will be able to see the airport and Los Christianos. We have had a wonderful few weeks, and have all put on a few pounds I'm sure. We have enjoyed every minute of our time spent with the Brits in Silencio Christian Fellowship and South Tenerife Christian Fellowship - they are doing great work with the British community over here, and we wish them every success over the next year until we return, we hope, at the end of 2008. And so in 6 days we will have returned to Monrovia, a land with no playgrounds or neat parks for the kids to play in, and no shops or pavement cafes to explore or hang out in. The next ten months will be very hard work, and that in itself has made our time in Tenerife all the more special. Olly

Saturday, 26 January 2008

Last Saturday in Tenerife

As we are due to sail to Liberia on Wednesday, today was our last Saturday in Tenerife. The day was warm and with no wind, so we caught a bus to Las Terisitas beach outside Santa Cruz, which was crowded at last. We have been there two or three times over the last month, but on each occasion it was deserted, with cloudy skies and howling winds. Today was quite the opposite, with people sunbathing and swimming, and we all had a lovely time soaking up the sunshine in preparation for the real sun in Liberia. The sea was still freezing though. Olly

Friday, 25 January 2008

President Bush to visit Liberia

The White House announced Friday that United States President George W. Bush and first lady Laura Bush will visit five countries in a one-week tour of Africa next month. The trip between February 15 and 21 will include stops in Benin, Tanzania, Rwanda, Ghana and Liberia. The White House said Bush will meet the presidents of these countries "to discuss how the United States can continue to partner with African countries to support continued democratic reform, respect for human rights, free trade, open investment regimes, and economic opportunity across the continent." It also said the trip will be an opportunity for President Bush to "review firsthand the significant progress" made in the fight against HIV/Aids and malaria. The United States has spent billions on programs fighting HIV/Aids, malaria and other diseases. Bush has called on Congress to double funding for President's Emergency Plan for Aids Relief (Pepfar) to U.S.$30 billion. Pepfar focuses primarily on Africa. According to government statistics, the program has helped more than one million people get antiretroviral treatment. Bush last visited Africa in 2003.

Another TRC trial of an accused war crimal

One of Liberia's foremost popular musical artists, S. Marcus Davis alias Sundaygar Dearboy, says he will remain unperturbed despite claims by others in an attempt to "tarnish his reputation" at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) in a bid to bring him to public ridicule and condemnation. In a chat with the Inquirer yesterday, the famous musical star lamented that it is unfortunate for evil-minded people as well as some invisible hands to engage in diversionary tactics and witch-hunting to bring him down at all costs as he is about to reach the ultimate of his career. The TRC is hearing allagations that Dearboy was involved in many foul acts during the Liberian war years, including leading the brutal gang rape of a woman who died of her injuries three weeks later.

Bridgestone donates tyres to Mercy Ships

Bridgestone has donated a consignment of tyres to Mercy Ships, the international charity operating hospital ships that provide health care in some of the world’s poorest countries. A selection of Bridgestone’s rugged 4x4 Dueller tyres have been supplied, and these will see use on vehicles that travel into remote areas of the bush, across difficult terrain and dirt tracks to reach sick people that otherwise could not be treated. For Des Collins, vice president Public Relations, Bridgestone Europe, this donation makes sense in several ways: “Bridgestone has a sister company in Liberia, Firestone Natural Rubber Company, which employs more than 6,000 people in the production of natural rubber. As a part of its commitment to employees and their families in Liberia, Firestone operates its own schools and hospitals there, and consequently knows well the local need for health care. Therefore, Bridgestone was attracted to helping Mercy Ships in their efforts in West Africa and we are confident that the Dueller 4x4 tyres will help them in their great work.”

Thursday, 24 January 2008

Gala Reception

Last night the Spanish office organised a Gala Reception on the ship for Tenerife's leading government officials, dignitaries, business leaders and the media. An events company provided very glamorous young men and women as hosts and hostesses, and a catering company provided a bar serving alcohol, interesting looking canapes and glasses of pured beetroot. It was a very weird experience for us crew who were invited, standing in the International Lounge surrounded by men in expensive looking suits and ladies in high heels and low-cut tops sipping wine and eating fancy food. It was all very un-Mercy Ships. Still, it was all for a good cause, and succeeded in raising our profile. Olly

Wednesday, 23 January 2008

Tragedy in Santa Cruz port

We have a very special relationship with the Port of Santa Cruz de Tenerife. For many years they have provided free tugs and pilots, berths, water, garbage disposal and security to Mercy Ships, and this visit alone we have been given a free berth for 5 weeks. During this time we have watched the daily comings and goings of the many ferries and ships with interest. Sadly, last night one of the pilot boats collided with a ferry and sank, and one of the crew lost his life. This happened not 100 yards from our ship - today I watched divers prepare to salvage the boat. We share the Port's loss. Please pray for the maritime community here and the deceased's family as they come to terms with their loss. Photo of one of the Port's pilot boats. Olly

No skin doctors in Liberia

The Liberian Ministry of Health and Social Welfare has revealed that there are no dermatologists in the country at present, and it does not know whether the Ministry will ever have such expert in its employ in the future. The Ministry confirmed that dermatologists can be found in Ghana, Nigeria, the USA or the UK.
Imagine that, a country with over 3 million residents and not one skin expert in site. Appalling. Olly

Monday, 21 January 2008

Lots and lots of Land Rover parts

Today we took delivery of 4 pallet loads of Land Rover parts from the UK, which Moses and I packed away in our container workshop. It was like Christmas Day, after having such a shortage of parts for so long. In real terms, in Liberia the shipment is probably worth four times what we paid for it in the UK, since parts are so expensive in Liberia if they can be found at all. Olly

Supporters hold church service for Charles Taylor's acquittal

Family and friends of Charles Taylor held a church service on Sunday in support of the former Liberian president, on the eve of his trial in The Hague on 11 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity. The service at the First Baptist Church in Congo Town, outside the Liberian capital Monrovia, was attended by scores of supporters and Taylor's estranged wife Jewel Howard Taylor, a member of parliament in the West African country. Supporters said more than three hours of prayers for the acquittal of Taylor, who is a deacon of the Baptist church and frequently invoked his Christian faith during his presidency, when Liberia became the epicenter of wars sweeping West Africa. Preacher Gardea Johnson told the congregation that Taylor's trial was part of an international conspiracy and said his church would support the ex-president because he was a "child of God." He looks real innocent, eh? Olly

Anna's first high heels

On Friday Anna found some high heels in the Lions Charity Shop in Silencio (the only one on the whole island) and she is very proud of them. She has spent the whole weekend searching out floor-tiles that she can clip-clop over, and has enjoyed being a grown-up. Olly

Libby's injuries

Last night Libby stabbed herself in the eye with a toothpick, and Sally had to put a band-aid over her eye to stop her crying (like that would really help). She woke up this morning absolutely fine and had forgotten all about her injury, but then she got an electric shock from a light she was messing around with, and now has a band-aid on that too...Olly

A weekend in Silencio

We've just had a fab weekend away, staying at John's house in Silencio, courtesy of Ken & Caroline's arrangements. We had a great big British fry-up on Friday lunchtime, and over the weekend we enjoyed the beaches at Los Christianos and Las Gallettes, although it was far to cold and windy to swim even though there wasn't a cloud in the sky on Saturday. Today the Calima arrived - a cloud of sand blown in from the Sahara (we call it the Harmatan in West Africa), and visibility has been reduced so that we can't see the mountains any more. But what a wonderful weekend! Thanks, John & Ken. Olly

Wednesday, 16 January 2008

Liberian warlord, General Butt Naked: "Any time we captured a town, I had to make a human sacrifice"

Monrovia - An evangelical pastor described the atrocities he and his men committed during the Liberian civil war, including magical rituals that involved slaughtering children and eating their hearts. Joshua Milton Blahyi spared no details on Tuesday as he told Liberia's Truth and Reconciliation Commission of his years with one of the most feared militias of the war. Dressed in an immaculate suit, Blahyi, 37, said it was for the TRC to decide whether he should be given an amnesty or prosecuted. In the days of Liberia's first civil war (1989-1997), he had led fighters from the feared ULIMO - the United Liberation Movement of Liberia for Democracy - that backed the then president Samuel Doe. It was Doe's 1990 assassination that sparked the orgy of violence that engulfed the country for most of that decade. During the civil war Blahyi, known as "General Butt Naked", said he led a group of young soldiers who fought naked while under the influence of drugs. They were notorious for their cruelty and use of magic rituals. A member of the Krahn ethnic group, Blayhi told how he had been initiated into a secret society at the age of 11 and became a traditional priest. His task became to protect all members of his ethnic group. At the time, he said, he had magical powers that made him invisible. "Having a special power, I was always a distance ahead of the rest of the fighters when we were going to the front. I used to capture a town first and then I call the rest of the group to clean up," he said. Before an audience of about 300 people at the hearing, he recalled the atrocities he committed to maintain his magical powers. "Any time we captured a town, I had to make a human sacrifice. They bring to me a living child that I slaughter and take the heart off to eat it." He did not know how many people they killed, he said. "But for what I did, it is not less than twenty thousands," he added, breaking down in tears. The hall, which earlier had rung to shouts of outrage at his account, fell silent. The turning point for him came in 1996, he said. "A lady offered me her child for my sacrifice. After cutting up the child I divided the heart among my boys and myself. "The blood of the child was still on my hand when Jesus appeared to me and asked me to stop being a slave." It was this experience, he said, that prompted his religious conversion and his life since then, travelling the country preaching his version of the Christian message. Blayhi had come to the TRC hearings of his own initiative."I was told that TRC can recommend amnesty or prosecution," he said. But he said he is ready to face trial if need be.

Multi-story car parks

Today I took our West African mechanic shopping for vehicle fluids. We parked in a multi-story car park (parking garage) two floors under a hyper-market, and it was his first experience of such a place. He couldn't believe that concrete buildings were capable of holding the weight of hundreds of cars, and walked around in awe of the place, muttering "this is strong concrete, strong concrete!" as if willing the place to stay strong whilst he was inside. Maybe he didn't quite trust it's strength. Olly

Monday, 14 January 2008

Liberian diarrhoea outbreal kills 4

The Health ministry in Monrovia has reported a diarrhoea outbreak in the south-eastern Counties of Maryland and Grand Kru County located more than 350 kilometers from the capital Monrovia. Liberia's Chief Medical Officer, Dr Moses Pewu confirmed that four persons have died while 160 persons have been infected in nine towns communities in the region. He said the County Health Teams in collaboration with international NGOs had moved in to contain the outbreak. Diarrhooea is a water-borne disease which becomes prevalent during the dry season when the water level reduces.

Saturday, 12 January 2008

Loro Parque

Today we went to Loro Park in Puerta De La Cruz on the other side of Tenerife, for a day of fun. The park is a fancy zoo I suppose, with parrot, orca, dolphin and sea-lion shows. Also, panthers, jaguars, gorillas, monkeys, chimps etc are on display. It was very well done and the place was immaculate. We spent the whole day there, courtesy of a gift from some British Christians in the South of the island - we were amongst the first to arrive and the last to depart, and had a wonderful time with good weather. Thanks again, dear friends. Olly

Yeah, thanks, US Navy

This weekend we had to cancel all public tours to the Africa Mercy, as the Port was on a heightened state of security because of the arrival of an unnamed ship. This morning, said ship arrived - HS2 "Swift" of the US Navy, a high-speed catamaran based in Texas. The ship wasn't in the port for long, but it completely disrupted the weekend's tours - most have been rescheduled for Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday of the coming week, but it has been a major embarrassment for Mercy Ships and us having to reschedule them - we had 55 people coming in a bus from South Tenerife Christian Fellowship plus many others from Silencio Christian Fellowship...Photo of the catamaran. Olly

Thursday, 10 January 2008

Old Anastasis photo

Today I found this great photo of the Anastasis hitting the dock at full speed in Benin in November 2004, when the engines failed to go into reverse and the ship couldn't slow down. I remember standing on Aft Deck with Noah and Anna and hearing the announcement "brace for impact, brace for impact!" at the time. A team of ship repairers came from Ghana to mend the damaged bow. Strange to think its sitting on a beach right now in India waiting to be cut up for scrap. Olly

Liberia's first truth & reconciliation hearings

Liberia's Truth and Reconciliation Commission held its first public hearings Tuesday, in an attempt to shed light on crimes committed during 14 years of brutal civil war which ended in 2003. The commission, sitting in the capital Monrovia, is based on the South African blueprint which catalogued crimes committed during the apartheid era. Opening the public hearing, Liberia's President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf appealed to all her compatriots called before the TRC to appear, and to give "honest" accounts of their actions. The public hearings are expected to last until the end of July, a spokesman for the commission said. Statements from victims are heard first, before the accounts of the accused, ahead of final meetings between the two sides. Under the terms of its remit, the commission will then submit a detailed report to the government which will then decide whether to pursue any official charges. The commission was created after the peace accord of 2003 with the idea of compiling an account of all human rights abuses during the successive civil wars which plagued the English-speaking West African country between 1989 and 2003. It is also charged with looking at the years 1979-89, from the bloody coup d'etat which brought Samuel Doe to power in 1980 and the subsequent crimes which marked his regime until it was overthrown in a Christmas 1989 rebellion by Charles Taylor. Separately in the Netherlands Tuesday, Taylor, a former warlord and ex-president of Liberia, went before a war crimes tribunal in the Hague, accused of crimes against humanity in neighbouring Sierra Leone.

Wednesday, 9 January 2008

Liberia International Shipping and Corporate Registry sets new tonnage records

LISCR, the Liberian Shipping Registry, celebrated the end of 2007 with a vessel count of 2,665 and an aggregate gross tonnage peaking at 82,165,902. The Liberian Registry is one of the world's largest and most active shipping registers, with a long-established track record of combining the highest standards for vessels and crews with the highest standards of responsive service to owners.

Tuesday, 8 January 2008

Stolen mail

We have become the victims of mail theft - somewhere between Holland and Tenerife someone broke open one of the parcels destined for us and stole half the contents. This is quite ironic, as we have been receiving mail in Liberia via DHL safely for years...So if you sent us anything in the mail c/o our shipping agent in Tenerife, but have not yet had a thank-you email, then maybe whatever you mailed to us has been stolen too. Please email me if this is the case. Thanks. Olly

Nanny is here!

Nanny (Sally's mother) is visiting us for on the Africa Mercy for two weeks. She will sleep in the spare bunk under Noah's bunk, lucky her! It's great to see her again - last time we saw her was in October 2006. Great photo of her taken by Pink Aunty Sue in South Africa, 2005. Olly

Monday, 7 January 2008

New role for Olly

I have got a new role on the ship - I am now the Transportation Manager. I am delighted to be working in Transportation again - I had the same job on the Anastasis from November 2004 to June 2006. I am responsible for 29 vehicles and 130 crew drivers, and manage 2 Sierra Leonian mechanics and 3 Liberian drivers, who I hope to do a bit of mentorship and discipling with, and I hope to run a 9 month apprenticeship programme to train up young Liberians as mechanics . I look forward to getting back into the swing of things when we get back to Liberia and our workshop is set up again. Flashback photo of me and the Anastasis Transportation Department in Ghana before we left the ship in 2006. Olly

Congratulations, Libby

Congratulations Libby Peet for graduating from Nursery to Pre-School!

Sunday, 6 January 2008

Monrovia's New Bridge could collapse

An American architectural and construction engineer, Adolphus G McCritty, has sounded a caveat that if speedy remedial action is not taken to maintain the Gabriel Tucker Bridge (New Bridge) in Monrovia, it stands the risk of collapsing within a period of four to five years. The bridge has steel sections that are designed to be flexible to withstand shifts in weight caused by heavy traffic, but lack of maintenance since Liberia's civil crises began and the added weight of UN trucks and tanks, and civilian water trucks have taken their toll on the bridge's mechanisms. In October 2006 a section of the city's Old Bridge collapsed and is still awaiting repair, leaving the New Bridge as the only point of access from the north into the city. Photo of the ill-fated bridge.

Liberia's latest tool against crime: the mobile phone.

Liberia's government is giving away free mobile phones to help residents call the police to help tackle a soaring crime rate. 400 communities around the capital, Monrovia, will be given 10 phones, pre-programmed with a free police hotline to report crimes. Liberia's 14-year civil war ended in 2003 but many thousands of ex-combatants have not yet found jobs in civilian life, and some have turned to armed robbery, while the small police force struggles to cope. Officers only go into dangerous areas with the backing of UN peacekeepers.

New Hotel for Liberia

United States-based church affiliate organization, Mission Builder International, has begun clearing the site for the construction of first class international hotel in Liberia. The project worth over US$10M is located near the Roberts International Airport and will be named Marwieh International Hotel in honor of a well known Liberian Prelate, the Late Bishop Augustus B. Marwieh. The hotel will contain a swimming pool and other recreation facilities to boost the Liberia tourism industry. The project will provide jobs for some 700 Liberians affected by the civil crisis.

Saturday, 5 January 2008

Codo con codo

This morning I took Dr Gary, Josh & Marcel to the Men's Breakfast at Silencio Church, where together we shared about the work of Mercy Ships in Liberia over a full English breakfast. I then showed the Mercy Ships promotional DVD "Codo con Codo" (the Spanish version of "Shoulder to Shoulder") to the Irish, Welsh, Scots and Englishmen present. Many were visibly moved by the images and stories we shared with them. Tomorrow we return to the same church for Sally to talk about Mercy Ships work in Liberia to the whole congregation as part of their Sunday morning service. Thanks, Ken, for inviting us. Olly

Three Kings Day

This morning, as a wonderful gesture of support and encouragement and to celebrate Three Kings Day, fifty people from local churches bought presents for the 50 kids on the ship. Tonight, the Three Kings (of Biblical fame) will arrive in Santa Cruz by helicopter, and then process around the town before presenting gifts to baby Jesus in the Plaza de la Candelaria. Then there will be a big firework display. Tomorrow the Spanish will celebrate Three Kings Day, and give gifts to each other representing the gifts the real Kings gave to the real baby Jesus all those years ago. For the Spanish this is considered to be an even bigger festival than Christmas Day. Do you think that someone should tell them that there weren't necessarily three kings? Olly

Tuesday, 1 January 2008

New Years Eve

At midnight last night we joined many other crew outside on Deck 8, and welcomed in the New Year by watching the port's massive firework display, whilst all over Santa Cruz and across the water on Gran Canaria even more fireworks filled the sky. Keeping with tradition, all the ships in the port sounded their horns at midnight, including the Queen Victoria which was berthed directly next to us; the sound of her horn was so loud that it nearly blew us away - I could feel it vibrating my clothes. It was a most enjoyable and memorable way to welcome in the New Year. Olly