Talking Drums

The West African News Magazine

Salem, the Liberian registered tanker affair

When a Liberian registered tanker, Salem, sank off the Senegalese coast in January 1980, it was taken initially as an unfortunate accident and the crew of the 214,000 ton tanker were fortun- ate to have been picked up by a British Petroleum Tanker, the British Trident, which was passing near the sinking Salem.

However, after four years of investigation, the British police have finally caught up with what they believe to be just the tip of an iceberg in a major scheme to help apartheid South Africa with oil purchases.

The master-mind behind the Salem swindle, according to a story in the London Times, is Mr Frederick Ed Soudan, a Lebanese insurance and oil broker from Houston who bought the tanker with the help of a South African bank loan. He is among more than two dozen men who are facing criminal charges in separate trials in Piraeus, Greece and Houston, Texas for allegedly scuttling the 214,000 ton Liberian tanker. They did that after embezzling its oil cargo, owned by Shell, and selling it secretly to South Africa for $45 million. If the scheme had gone through undetected, the owners of the Salem, according to the indictment, would have cashed a further $26 million from Lloyd's for the ship's insurance. But no claim was lodged.

A Scotland Yard confidential report 33,000 ft. which is appended to the Piraeus court's indictment and signed by Detective-Inspector Peter Griggs, said Mr Soudan had obtained an option for another super-tanker, the Norse King, for $14 million, also to be financed by a South African bank.

"There is little doubt," the report said, "that those involved in the Salem affair were taking drastic measures to repeat their operation. They would have gone ahead had the sinking (of the Salem) not aroused suspicions in the shipping community."

The scheme failed, according to Detective-Inspector Grigg's report, because the skipper of the BP tanker, the British Trident, which happened to be passing near the sinking Salem off the coast of West Africa on January 17, 1980, found the whole affair fishy. There was no distress signal from the ship. The crew were picked up in tip- top shape, their lifeboats filled with cigarettes and liquor, and very few personal belongings. All the crew members told the same story: mysterious explosions below deck and the Salem with 1.4 million barrels of valuable oil from Kuwait, went down

One Tunisian seaman confessed that the ship had stopped at Durban, and its oil had been pumped ashore. Off Dakar, on the coast of Senegal, it had been scuttled with explosives. The crewmen had been bribed to keep their mouths shut.

When Scotland Yard investigated after a complaint from Shell, Frau Squad detectives found evidence of the passage of the Salem's crew through Durban over the new year of 1980.

Detective-Inspector Grigg concluded that of the $45 million paid by South Africa's national oil agency to Mr Soudan for the oil, about $1 million went to repay the Johannesburg Bank for the ship.

Another $20 million were remitted t a Swiss bank account under an assumed name for Mr Nikos Mitakis the Salem's Piraeus agent who had appointed the Greek crew.

talking drums 1985-01-21 what hope for Africa's growing millions