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On a dockside  in war-torn Southern Senegal, a rusting hulk lies impounded by the authorities -  its English captain held in the local prison accused of people smuggling.





The alleged involvement of a British citizen is a disturbing development in the ongoing tragedy of African migration which has seen thousands die in desperate bid to make it to Europe



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Talla Gnang



TALLA: People say Bara or Barsac (SP). Barca is barcelona and barsac is the afterlife .  So it means that they aren't afraid of dying // They will go to barcelona - barca - or they will die trying.




Most migrants still rely on traditional wooden Pirogues like these for the dangerous journey to Europe.  100 people or more will cram into each pirogue and spend up to 10 perilous days on the open sea between Senegal and Spain.


But as well as the physical dangers they increasingly risk being caught by patrol boats like this one from the European border control agency Frontex which constantly monitor the coasts around the capital Dakar





TALLA: All the way down here is difficult - patrols are there every day





As the noose tightens around Dakar, young men - desperate to leave the grinding poverty of their lives - turn to even more dangerous escape routes  further south in places like the conflict-torn  region of Casamance.




TALLA They will go to Casamance because Casamance - you know the region is insecure because they have a rebellion over there  and its hard for our militaries or our police officers to control. That's why they go there because its very difficult to control.




The capital of this war-weary region is the town of Ziquinchor 150 miles south of Dakar on the banks of the Casamance river .


And it was here that we found  the Salina 11











So how did the Salina end up in this unhappy region? And what was she really up to?


Our investigation began, not in Africa, but Portland, in Dorset.



 It was here, five years ago, that a retired handyman called Robert Thorne sold his house and bought a rusting old cargo boat for seventy thousand pounds.  Local people who knew Robert Thorne as an odd job man tended to dismiss his behaviour as a piece of harmless eccentricity.



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Denise Janson


DENISE: Bit of a strange man with big ideas about going across to the other side of the world. He didn't strike me as the kind of man who would know how to deal with the boat or to have the qualifications that he should have.




In fact Throne had no qualifications at all as a captain - and he'd never owned a ship before. 


But he did have big plans for the Salina. He launched a charitable company to run the ship and told the local Dorset paper he planned to fill her with medical aid and sail her to East Timor.



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Callum Macrae




PTC:  Before long Robert Thorne's dream started to unravel.  For a start his ship, the Salina II was detained here by the authorities for being unseaworthy.




For months the Salina remained tied up in the port, forbidden from putting to sea - but all the time she was incurring more and more port fees.


Then, one night, under cover of darkness - Robert Thorne and the Salina disappeared  - owing thousand of pounds in mooring fees. 




DENISE The ship was deemed by the Marine Coast Guard Agency as unfit to go to sea, so I was more than surprised when I arrived at work one morning to find that it had actually left the harbor and it was last seen going over the shambles bank.



Robert Thorne and the Salina were now effectively Maritime outlaws. 


They headed first for from Morocco - from where they were escorted by armed navy vessels. 


Then., off the coast of Spain, her British two-man crew mutinied, locked Thorne in his cabin  and sailed her into the port of Almeria, where she was again detained as unsafe.


But two years ago she slipped her moorings once more - and disappeared apparently without trace.




PTC Its a long way from Portland in the south of England, to the mangrove swamps of southern Senegal. But this rusting hulk is the Salina II.




Its five years since the British authorities condemned  her as unsafe.  And now she looks like a death-trap, battered and leaking.   Yet when she was seized by the Senegalese authorities they claim she had 80 illegal migrants in her hold and was waiting for more.   So why would anyone risk their lives in this rust bucket?


According to locals its because the journey on the alternative - the wooden pirogues - is even more dangerous.


Local Human rights activist Abdul Aziz Mbaye, He took me to a bridge - around 30 miles from Ziguinchor where he says the clandestins, or illegal migrants, wait in darkness for the pirogue to arrive which will take them on the perilous journey to the Canaries.









TRANSLATION: They come down and are put under here and told to hide...... 




On the bridge some graffiti depicts the journey, and nearby someone has marked the date of the last departure from here.



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Abdoul Aziz Mbaye

Human Rights Activist


TRANSLATION  There are sometimes a hundred or two hundred in a Piroque. They are packed like sardines.  No-one can move.// There are people who fall ill.  And there are no medecines. Generally when something happens at sea as there is no medecine people do not hesitate to take the person and throw them in the sea.




Even those who escape death may simply be captured and returned home.  That's what happened to these three boys.


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Mustafa Diop

Returned Migrant




By the last day I was nearly dead.  There was no food, no water and I could no longer hear.



I knew that I was alive, but I couldn't hear, and I couldn't recognize people around me.


Three of my friends had died because they were  more exhausted than me.. I wish you could experience the conditions of this journey. At this moment I am thinking of it and  I am almost crying


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My friend you must understand what I say. It's too dangerous to take the migration boat...

TRANSLATION My friend you must understand what I say. It's too dangerous to take the migration boat...



This song appeals to young men not to undertake the dangerous journey, but the reality is whole families will pool meagre resources to send each clandestin.  It costs around 500 dollars for every trip even on one of these small wooden craft -  an enormous sum requiring huge family sacrifices made in the certain confidence that their young men will send money back when they start to earn.


And for many families there seems to be no alternative to the desperate journey to Europe, despite the risks.






Q:  People die?


A:  Yeah people die. When they go.. Some of them they die, some of them they succeed.


Q And how do the mothers feel when they see them leaving in these dangerous boats




I don't think they can stop them from going, because if you stop your child to go  don't have anything to give your child.    So it is better for you top leave him to try and see if he will succeed,





But even if the they escape death, the danger of being caught remains high - and the migrants search constantly for new ways of travelling. 


Increasingly they venture further and further out to sea - and into even greater danger - to avoid the Frontex patrols. 


The migrants' latest method - though even more expensive - is to to start the journey in small innocent looking fishing boats and then rendezvous at sea with larger vessels like the Salina.


That - say the Senegalese Gendarmerie - is what the Salina was doing.




After his arrest the Salina's captain, Robert Thorne - was held here in Ziguinchors town jail for three months until he was released on bail  on medical grounds while the investigation into his case continues.   He is now in hiding in the Gambia, but before he disappeared I managed to meet him in prison, where he insisted he was innocent of the charges.



PTC LEAVING THE JAIL: Well I've seen him. He's painfully thin and frail, but he's also angry.  He  absolutely denies people smuggling .




PTC: Up there is the fishing village of Diogue.  It's a notorious departure point for illegal migrants. Ita aboot 70 kilometres from Ziguinchor at the  mouth of the river Casemance.  Now it ws there that the Salina II was seized by the Authorities.







Central to Thorne's defense is his claim that he was only in the area because he was buying a launch from the villagers But when we told the village elders about Thorne's alibi,  they poured scorn on it.


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Ibrahima Kane

Diogue Village Elder


There's no launch here


You can't even find spare parts let alone a launch

The boat came here to pick up people to go to Spain

 Here you can buy just three things fish oil, rice and dried rotting catfish.






The elders explained that local people were desperate to leave, because their fish stocks had been decimated by huge European trawlers.  And so today -  in the absence of boats like the Salina  - wooden pirogues are still leaving.




When did the last boat leave?


A: trois jour depuis.


Three days ago?


A: Oui



Today, Robert Thorne remains in hiding in Gambia and his ship sits by the dockside in Ziguinchor, while the investigation continues.


Not surprisingly the Senagalese nationals found in her hold continue to deny they were illegal migrants, but others have come forward to the authorities who claim to have paid Robert Thorne for the passage to Europe.







Meanwhile on the open sea,  young migrants continue to risk their lives for their European dream.


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