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07MONROVIA610 2007-05-23 09:56:00 UNCLASSIFIED//FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY Embassy Monrovia
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1. (SBU) Summary: On May 11, unknown assailants "stole" the
Saint Vincent-flagged M/V "Tahoma Reefer" from its anchorage
in Liberian waters and proceeded to tow the vessel towards
the Ivory Coast. United Nations Police (UNPOL) and the
Liberian National Police (LNP) arrested two individuals (one
of them an LNP officer) in connection with the theft, and
United Nations Mission to Liberia (UNMIL) tracked the vessel
until it disappeared near the border on May 13.
Representatives of the ship's owners fueled a press frenzy
with suggestions of piracy and terrorism, but the ship's
storied history suggests the exact circumstances of the
ship's removal is as mysterious as its current whereabouts.
The Freeport of Monrovia does have security issues to
resolve, but the "Tahoma Reefer" incident does not suggest
that piracy is an issue in Liberia or that commercial vessels
run any new dangers in using the Freeport of Monrovia. End

2. (U) In August 2006, the M/V Tahoma Reefer caught fire
while unloading frozen fish at the Freeport of Monrovia. The
fire was extinguished and the vessel was towed out of the
harbor basin to outer anchorage with the assistance of the US
Navy, which happened to have a vessel in port. The National
Port Authority (NPA) then instructed the local agents of the
vessel (Joden Shipping and Stevedoring) to relocate the
vessel outside the port's shipping channel. After several
months without response, during which the vessel was
reportedly looted and damaged, the NPA relocated the vessel
three nautical miles outside the port's approach path in
January 2007. According to a local representative, in
February 2007 the Defendo Maritime Consulting LTD Company
bought the ship and sent its representative, Shteynberg
Volodimir, a Ukrainian-national, to Monrovia. (Note: Embassy
is unable to verify actual ownership of the vessel. End note.)

3. (SBU) According to UNPOL Acting Police Commissioner G. M.
DuToit, the LNP received reports of nefarious activity
(perhaps drugs or weapons) on board the vessel. The LNP
reportedly boarded the ship on May 7 but found nothing. On
May 8, Mr. Volodimir says he received a call that the boat
had been attacked and that his 100-man crew was held hostage
(Note: UNPOL advises that the boat had no crew and that Mr.
Volodimir is not the ship's captain as he claims). UNPOL
deployed police units to the coastline where the alleged
attackers were expected to return and arrested two people,
one of them an LNP officer, charging them with theft. On May
11, Volodimir reported the boat was "stolen" and UN
helicopters confirmed sighting the vessel as it was towed
down the Liberian coast. Because neither the GOL nor the UN
has any marine resources, the UN could not interdict the boat
and was only able to monitor its path. The UN tracked the
boat until the evening of May 13 when the boat was expected
to cross the Ivory Coast border. Instead, the boat
disappeared and despite efforts on both sides of the border,
the boat remains missing. UN Missions in both Liberia and the
Ivory Coast have searched for the ship as recently as May 21
without success.

4. (SBU) Self-proclaimed "Captain" Volodimir lashed out at
the UN and the LNP in the press for their inability to stop
this slow-moving crime, and news of the theft quickly
triggered rumors of piracy along the West African coast.
Volodimir spun a melodramatic tale of extortion, assault and
theft, but UNPOL says the story is so full of holes, they are
uncertain what the real story is. According to UNPOL,
ownership of the boat is in dispute and the owners' portrayal
of the saga suggest they may be attempting to lay the basis
for an insurance claim.

5. (SBU) Comment: The Freeport of Monrovia is rife with
problems (reftel) but fortunately, piracy is not currently a
major issue. Because of its strategic importance, UNMIL
protects the port from incursion on land, while the NPA does
what it can to safeguard property on the port premises. But
port infrastructure is antiquated, management oversight is
lax, and the GOL does not have the capacity for marine
patrols. At locations outside port waters, however, ship
owners - rather than the GOL (or the UN) - are responsible
for security, and it is clear that the owners of the M/V
Tahoma Reefer did little to stop (and may have encouraged)
its theft. It is unfortunate that the legend of the Tahoma
Reefer has spawned rumors of piracy in Liberia at a time when

MONROVIA 00000610 002 OF 002

the NPA is seeking to improve its reputation. The Tahoma
Reefer incident is a reminder that the Freeport of Monrovia
has many problems, but is not a sign of any additional threat
or increase in danger for shipping to/from Liberia. End