The body of a Ghanaian national, who worked on a trawler in Northern Ireland, is still in a Belfast mortuary, 18 months after he died.
Fortune Adzawoloo died of natural causes in July 2011, six weeks after he began work on a Kilkeel fishing boat. After passing away at Daisy Hill Hospital in Newry, Adzawoloo was taken to the mortuary at the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast, where he has remained ever since.
Adzawoloo’s family want his body returned home, but are disputing who should pay for the repatriation. They have also declined the Southern Health Trust’s offer to pay for his burial or cremation in Northern Ireland.
According to the family’s legal representative, Adzawoloo was a chief in his Ghanaian community and tradition and custom dictate that he must be buried in his native land.
Kofi Owusu Ansah, the family’s lawyer, told the BBC: “The most important reason why the body of Fortune Adzawoloo should [not] be cremated, touched or have anything done 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.”
Owusu Ansah went on to describe Adzawoloo’s family’s distress that his funeral has yet to take place.
“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.
The lawyer believes that Adzawoloo’s company should compensate his family by returning his body, as his family do not have the means for his retrieval.
“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 remarked.
Timothy Jefferies, director of the Sardius Fishing Company, which employed Adzawoloo, said he was saddened by his death, but that it wasn’t the company’s responsibility to repatriate the body.
“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,” said Jeffries.
“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.”