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Benin Says Ship Misidentified

April 16, 2001

COTONOU, Benin (AP) _ Fears were growing for scores of children on a suspected slave ship Monday, but Benin officials warned that that authorities had identified the wrong ship as the suspected vessel.

A top Benin official said late Monday that the ship, the MV Etireno, did not carry any unaccompanied minors and had been confused with a second ship, whose name and location were unknown.

The Nigerian-registered ship was expected back in the commercial capital, Cotonou, within hours, Benin Social Protection Minister Ramatou Baba Moussa said.

``I don’t know what to think,″ said Nicolas Pron, a senior official with the U.N. children’s fund in Benin. ``My main concern is that the kids are here and safe, and we will hear if that is the case.″

For days, Benin officials and human rights groups had said that the MV Etireno was thought to be transporting scores of suspected child slaves. But Moussa said the ship was only carrying a number of people who had been refused entry in Gabon more than a week ago because they did not have the necessary travel documents, but no unaccompanied children.

Moussa said the Etireno had been confused with a second Nigerian-registered ship, whose name and location were unknown, which arrived in Gabon at about the same time with about 250 passengers _ many of them suspected child slaves.

Moussa’s claims could not be independently verified.

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