‘Could have been a great deal worse’
Today was the day the 13 Mondego ‘mutineers’ were finally to hear their accusations. And it has panned out very much as defence lawyer Paulo Graça imagined: yes, they have been ‘accused’ along the lines the Admiral of the Fleet suggested, stony-faced, in the immediate aftermath. But it is a very ‘generic’ accusation. Even the possible sanctions “have not been revealed”
It is all looking a bit like a decision of ‘throw the book at them, on elastic’: the ‘Naval line’ that the men let the service down persists, but it does not instantly appear that they will be made to suffer more than they already have.
Speaking to journalists in front of the Navy’s Legal Directorate building in Lisbon today, Paulo Graça, said that even the accusation “disobedience of an order” is “not a situation of insubordination” – at least that is what he has understood from what he has read.
Asked if, in the face of this accusation, the 13 men could incur prison time, Paulo Graça replied, “imprisonment could be on the table, but so could a mere admonition”.
“The question is that (the indictment) does not say, in relation to any of them, what sanction is in view, and this is important from a constitutional point of view, because the right to a hearing and defence presupposes that the accused knows what sanction is likely to be applied to him or her,” he went on.
What happens next is that the men’s defence has 10 days to ‘contest’ the accusation.
Paulo Graça referred to the Mondego’s state of seaworthiness once again.
“What kind of monitoring could be done of a vessel that is 10 miles (about 16 kms) north of Porto Santo and moving at 14 or 15 miles (22.5 or 24.1 kms) per hour, by a vessel that is in Funchal, that would be doing no more than five knots (9.26 kms per hour)and would take about three hours to pass the tip of São Lourenço?” he quizzed.
These arguments no doubt will have their time. But for now, the situation is not looking as dire as it might have done.
Yesterday, in a hearing by MPs on the Defence Commission, Portugal’s minister for Defence Helena Carreiras echoed Admiral Gouveia e Melo’s bottom line message: “Orders are not negotiable.
“”What happened on March 11 was unacceptable”, she said, the NRP ‘Mondego’ “was two hours from setting out and in a safe condition to sail after assessment by those who had competencies” (for such an assessment).
The conduct of the sailors “put the chain of command in question”, she said.