Lawyer defending the 13 sailors still maintain’s Navy’s case “mortally wounded”
The 13 sailors who refused to take part in a mission to accompany what has since been identified as a Russian spy ship will be finally hearing the Navy’s disciplinary charges against them on Thursday.
Lawyer for the 13, Paula Graça, has told Lusa he still maintains that the Navy’s case is ‘mortally wounded’.
This has never been an easy story to understand. On the face of it, the Naval patrol boat Mondego was in such an abysmal state of seaworthiness that the 13 sailors – some of them of relatively senior rank – feared for their lives.
The wrath brought down on them by the Navy’s chief of staff however would have seared the barnacles off any ship’s bottom.
Admiral Henrique Gouveia e Melo made a point of travelling to Funchal, Madeira, where the boat bobbed at anchor to deliver a blistering dressing down, essentially laying out the Navy’s case, leaving the men with ‘nowhere to go’ (in all senses of the word).
Quite apart from being relieved of their duties on the Mondego forthwith, the men heard what their lawyer described as “a form of trial in the public space, without giving them the chance to respond”.
The lofty admiral (he stands at over 6´3”), told the assembled men and women of the boat (including the 13 mutineers) that “the Navy cannot forget, ignore, or forgive acts of indiscipline, whether the soldiers are tired, unmotivated, or concerned about their own realities”.
Addressing the sailors directly, he said: “What interests did you defend? Certainly not the Navy’s; your own much less so. We can only overcome difficulties if we are united, and you have disunited us”.
For all the talk about discipline at the time, there was criticism of Gouveia e Melo’s role in this drama, with various columnists suggesting he handled it badly. That the ship had technical problems is without doubt: one of the two engines were down, one of the three generators wasn’t working, there were various oil leaks, water leaks and an issue with the sewage system that apparently posed a fire risk.
The Navy’s response has been that ‘these ships are built to continue functioning in less than optimum states’, which led to a satirical lambasting on the popular television show “Isto é Gozar com quem trabalha”.
Only later did it transpire that the Russian vessel that the Mondego failed to accompany was spying on Portugal’s undersea communications network…
Thus Paulo Graça isn’t anticipating any ‘happy surprises’ on Thursday. He has told reporters he doesn’t expect the Navy to do anything other than “confirm the admiral’s reading on the situation”.
There is also the matter of the investigation opened by judicial military police. “We don’t know anything”, repeated Graça. “We don’t know at what point it is, if it has been archived. We have had no news”.
Theoretically, the military judicial police investigation is intended to “enable the Public Prosecutor’s Office to know whether or not to bring criminal charges”, which, again theoretically, could carry prison terms. But until Thursday, nothing will be clear.
The 13 sailors, four sergeants and nine ratings, have been assigned to different ships and have been working “in the greatest normality, and without any kind of problems” since they left the NRP Mondego, which shortly afterwards, set out for a new military mission and promptly broke down.
Reports described “intense smoke coming out of one of the chimneys”
The boat had to abandon its mission and be towed back to Funchal. The official spokesman for the Armada, José Sousa Luís, later rejected the notion that maintenance issues were to blame, saying the breakdown was caused by “low levels of fuel in the service tanks”.