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Tuesday, 17 April, 2001, 10:45 GMT 11:45 UK
'Slave ship' timeline
West Africa and the Gulf of Guinea
The return to Benin of a ship allegedly carrying child slaves has failed to solve the confusion about the ship or its cargo. When it docked it was in good condition and the passengers apparently healthy.

While human-rights workers and police in the west African state try to determine what - if anything - happened to the alleged child slaves, BBC News Online tries to reconstruct a timeline of events.

30 March: A Nigerian-registered ship, the MV Etireno, sets off from the Beninois port of Cotonou for Gabon.

The manifest of the chartered ship says it carries 139 passengers. It has room for 200.

About 11 April: The ship is turned away from the port of Libreville in Gabon, according to Unicef's Libreville office.

The Gabonese Transport Ministry says there are 250 Nigerian children aboard, Unicef Libreville says.

12 April: The ship is turned away from the port of Douala in Cameroon, and reportedly sets sail for Cotonou.

13 April: Reports about a ship carrying child slaves hits the international news headlines.

Emergency medical services staff on hand in Cotonou Benin for the arrival of the alleged slave ship
Medics awaited the arrival of the ship
Gabonese police deny that there is a slave trade between Gabon and Benin, saying the ship they turned away held more than 100 illegal immigrants of all ages.

Police in Douala say there are 28 children aboard the ship, while Cotonou authorities say there are 250. Benin's Social Protection Ministry puts the figure at 100.

14 April: Benin's Social Protection Minister, Ramatou Baba Moussa, says there are 180 children aboard the ship.

An international effort to find the ship begins. Unicef expresses fears that the captain of the ship will try to offload any possible child slaves before reaching Benin.

15 April: Benin police ask neighbouring countries - including Nigeria, Togo, Ghana and Ivory Coast - to prevent the captain from offloading children in their ports.

16 April: An international arrest warrant is issued for businessman Stanislas Abadtan and two others suspected of trading in child slaves.

A ship that might be the Etireno is spotted off the coast of Equatorial Guinea, but local authorities cannot verify the report.

17 April: The Etireno docks at Cotonou in Benin. It is in good condition, and there are no unaccompanied children aboard.

Passengers of the MV Etireno, back in Benin
The passengers may simply have been illegal migrants
Benin Social Protection Minister Baba Moussa suggests that there may be an as-yet identified second ship carrying child slaves.

Passengers reportedly say they left Benin on 27 March and arrived at Libreville, Gabon, on 2 April, where they were detained for lack of documents.

They then say they left for Douala, Cameroon, on 6 April, arriving on 12 April.

It is not clear if the arrest warrants for the suspected child traffickers are still in effect.

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See also:

16 Apr 01 | Africa
West Africa's 'little maids'
06 Aug 99 | Africa
West Africa's child slave trade
28 Sep 00 | Africa
The bitter taste of slavery
29 Sep 00 | Africa
Mali's children in slavery
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