C O T O N O U, Benin, April 30, 2001 -- A vessel that returned to Benin after afrantic search by officials off the coast of Africa was involved inchild trafficking, officials confirmed toy.
Aid workers who interviewed the 43 children and young adultsremoved from the Nigerian-registered MV Etireno said those oldenough to be aware of what was happening confirmed they had beenheaded to Gabon to work.
Five children told authorities a "financial transaction" tookplace before their departure, according to a joint statement issuedby the government of Benin, UNICEF and the Terre des Hommes aidgroup. Eight said they were traveling with a person they did notknow.
"It is confirmed that the adventure of the Etireno ship enterseffectively in the category of a regional traffic in minors," thestatement said. It stopped short, however, of saying the childrenwere destined for slavery.
A Warranted Media Furor
The Etireno grabbed world headlines when Benin's government,citing officials in Cameroon, said a ship suspected of carryingchild slaves had been turned away from two African ports and washeaded back to Benin's commercial capital, Cotonou.
After days of searching, officials were confounded when a ferrymarked as the Etireno pulled into port April 17 with a load ofexhausted and frightened men, women and children — not the 100-pluschildren they had expected.