Ghanaian man's body lies for 18 months in NI mortuary

Kevin Magee reports for BBC Newsline

The remains of a Ghanaian national, who worked on a Kilkeel trawler, are still in a mortuary in Belfast, 18 months after he died.

Efforts to have his body returned to his native country for burial have so far been unsuccessful.

Fortune Adzawoloo, 29, died of natural causes in July 2011, six weeks after he came to work on a Kilkeel fishing boat.

His family want his body returned home but are disputing who should pay for its repatriation.

Mr Adzawoloo was brought to Daisy Hill Hospital in Newry on 18 July 2011 and died later the same day.

His body was brought to the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast where it remains in the mortuary.

The Southern Health Trust has offered to pay for his burial or cremation in Northern Ireland - but the dead man's family have declined the offer.

According to the family's legal representative, the dead man was a chief in his local Ghanaian community. Tradition and custom dictate that he must be buried in a particular place in his native home, they said.

Start Quote

Normally in Africa when someone dies, after 40 days you can begin to move on. But since the body has not been sent to Ghana for the funeral rites, they are still mourning”

End Quote Kofi Owusu Ansah Lawyer

Speaking from Accra in Ghana, the family's lawyer Kofi Owusu Ansah told the BBC: "The most important reason why the body of Fortune Adzawoloo should (not) be cremated, touched or do anything that will harm it, is that the deceased is a royal chief properly installed by the community and people of Akyivie in the Volta region of Ghana where he hails from.

"It is a taboo or forbidden and a disgrace to the family and the Republic of Ghana for a chief to be buried outside the community he hails from."

The death, combined with no funeral having taken place, have caused the deceased man's family great distress, the lawyer said.

"They are frustrated. He has a twin sister. She is a young lady and she is always crying to me. Normally in Africa when someone dies, after 40 days you can begin to move on. But since the body has not been sent to Ghana for the funeral rites, they are still mourning," he said.

Mr Owusu Ansah said that the dead man's family did not have the means to pay for the body to be sent back to Africa. He said he believes the company Mr Adzawoloo worked for in Northern Ireland should compensate the family and pay for the body to be returned.

"Why can't the authorities in Northern Ireland make sure the company bears the cost of the body being sent back to Ghana. It's as simple as that," he said.

The director of the Sardius Fishing Company which employed Mr Adzawoloo, Timothy Jefferies, said he was saddened by the crew member's death but it was not his responsibility to repatriate the body.

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Of course I would rather he was sent home and buried in Africa, but it is not up to me. What can I do? It's not my responsibility to send the body back. It's up to his family to sort it out”

End Quote Timothy Jefferies Sardius Fishing Company

"At the beginning, we tried to arrange to help to send the body back but before the body was even released I was receiving unreasonable demands for compensation. I was being asked for £10,000," he said.

"The man died of natural causes. How can I owe compensation if he died of natural causes?

"Of course I would rather he was sent home and buried in Africa, but it is not up to me.

"What can I do? It's not my responsibility to send the body back. It's up to his family to sort it out. It's not up to me."

Mr Owusu Ansah has written to solicitors acting for the health service in Northern Ireland, asking them not to cremate or bury his remains in the hope the body will be returned to Ghana.

"His community can't even go ahead and install a new chief unless the body comes to Ghana and the funeral rights are performed," he said.

Mr Adzawoloo came to Northern Ireland legally via Casablanca and London on 4 June 2011 to take up a job as a deckhand.

According to his contract of employment, his "salary scale" was £400 per month. His cause of death was established as meningococcal septicaemia.

Mr Owusu Ansah said he and Mr Adzawoloo's sister had been denied permission to travel to Northern Ireland "to see the mortal remains and to repatriate same to Ghana for burial and funeral rites".

The UK Border Agency said it did not routinely comment on individual cases.

The Southern Health Trust said it was currently awaiting further instruction from Mr Adzawoloo's family.

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