A happier moment: Chris Freer rowing freely

Maritime cops ‘repeatedly ram’ British pensioner’s rowing boat in bid to stop him taking exercise in Lagos

Maritime police in Lagos resorted to ramming a British pensioner’s rowing boat three times in a bid to try and stop him taking exercise.

The incident took place at the entrance to the harbour on Monday February 1 at 5pm.

77-year-old Chris Freer now tells us he is “frankly very frightened… It’s like the GNR in a 4×4 ramming a cyclist”.

But more to the point there are international laws in place that should prohibit this kind of behaviour in the water – and Mr Freer knows all about them.

“I am a retired Merchant Navy navigating officer who holds an Ocean Yachtmaster certificate. I have 60 years of experience at sea, all over the planet”.

International Maritime Collision Regulations (COLREGS) are very specific, he says. “No shoreside law overrides them. They are there to ensure safe navigation. This is especially relevant to a government body like the Polícia Marítima which has a duty of care to protect the safety of those at sea, in estuaries or harbour fairways, as well as setting a good example of correct seamanship”.

After his terrifying encounter with the police launch, Mr Freer says: “Those bullies picked the wrong guy. I know the COLREG rules”.

He says he has no intention of giving up his exercise in the name of the pandemic as it is something he does on medical advice for arthritis, and ‘outside excercise’ is allowed under the terms of Portugal’s State of Emergency.

Mr Freer equally has no intention of behaving irresponsibly.

“I launch and recover my boat from the Lagos fishing dock slipway among groups of ‘distanced’, masked lawful locals maintaining their boats. 

“My proximity to any beach is 200 m and to the Avenida it’s 30 m. 

“I obey the Covid rules because I don’t want to die”.

His opinion of the three men who rammed his boat, and then “threatened” him further as he rowed to his normal berth, is unprintable. 

The Resident called the Lagos Maritime Police about this incident and received quite short shrift. 

We were told we ‘didn’t know what we were talking about’; that we ‘hadn’t been there on Monday February 1’ and that we needed to ‘look up the terms of the law governing the State of Emergency’.

The source explained that the government has left it to every city council to determine whether or not they decide to close the beaches.

In the case of Lagos, the council has decided that it will close all the beaches – “and this means no-one but professional fishermen are allowed on the water”.

We tried to explain that Mr Freer does not access the water from a beach, but the source reiterated that this was irrelevant as all water-based activities are prohibited.

Mr Freer “does not have a licence to row a boat as leisure”, the source told us. “These are the rules of lockdown”.

We tried to point out that these are not the rules of lockdown: these appear to the rules as interpreted by authorities in Lagos.

We were met with the same response: “It is the job of the police to make sure rules apply to everyone. You are not well-informed enough”.

When we brought up the issue of International Maritime Collision Regulations, and how the two police agents in charge of the large 200 horsepower launch appeared not to be following them in any way, shape or form, we were told to address any further questions by email to the Lagos ports captain, Pedro da Palma – which is what we have done.

Updates to this story will hopefully follow very soon.

As it happens, Mr Freer has since told us that he holds an international licence which covers him for command of ANY vessel up to a weight of 200 tons.

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