ACCRA, Ghana (AP) _ Ghana turned away on Saturday a Russian freighter crammed with hundreds of Liberian refugees searching for a West African port of refuge for 14 days.

Officials threatened to arrest the ship's captain if he tried to force his way into port.

The ship sailed toward the western city of Takoradi on Friday asking for permission to dock. It was escorted by tug boats to about 20 miles off shore Saturday afternoon, according to sources at the port.

Those sources could not say whether any humanitarian assistance was delivered to the Zolotisa, which left the war-ravaged Liberian capital of Monrovia on May 26 with an estimated 450 people on board.

The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees said many children were on board and that they were running out of food and water. Agency spokesman Ron Redmond said Friday that health and sanitary conditions on board were ``dramatic.''

Deputy foreign minister Mohamed Chambas told The Associated Press on Saturday that the ship's captain could be arrested if he tried to force his way into the Ghanaian port.

``The captain will face possible prosecution should he decide to come back to Ghana without authorization,'' said Chambas. Earlier in the day, Chambas said he believed the boat was on its way to Lagos, Nigeria.

Last month, a leaking Nigerian freighter loaded with 2,000 people was forced to ply the same high seas for days before being accepted in Ghana after international pleas.

When the Bulk Challenge left Ghana, authorities issued a stern warning against other ship captains ``who sacrifice professional competence on the altar of profitability that Ghana will not deal leniently with them.''

Redmond said the U.N. agency was in contact with the governments of Benin and Nigeria and had asked Nigeria to let the agency put the refugees in a camp that already shelters about 3,000 Liberian refugees.

About half of the passengers on the Zolotisa are Liberian, about 135 are Ghanaian, 50 are Nigerian and the rest are from other African nations, Redmond said.

The fighting in Monrovia has calmed since last month's bloody factional clashes. However, fighting has flared again outside the capital and many people are still trying to flee the country.