Just days after reports that the Sri Lankan Captain aboard the Ocean Trite was killed in a pirate raid, and a few months after the Pakistani Captain was killed as Somali forces overran the hijacked QSM Dubai, comes another shocker. Pirates holding 24 crew hostage, including six Indians, aboard the cargo vessel ‘Iceberg 1’ have threatened to kill the crew and sell their body parts that they say are “more expensive than the ransom.”
The Iceberg I was taken just ten miles from the port of Aden on March 29 this year on a passage to Jebel Ali carrying expensive machinery and other equipment; the UAE owned and Panama-flagged vessel has 24 crew (6 Indians , 9 Yemenis, 4 Ghanaians, 2 Sudanese, 2 Pakistani and 1 Filipino). She was later apparently renamed the ‘Sea Express’ by the pirates and presumably used as a mother ship. Believed to have about 50 pirates aboard, reports say that the crew have long run out of food, medicines and water; some are sick and the ship has no diesel for the generators, according to communication received from the crew. The owners Azal Shipping in Dubai have reportedly refused to pay any ransom, and the Iceberg 1 apparently has no insurance. The owners are believed to have abandoned negotiations with pirates, which are now being handled by British cargo interests. The sailors have no more food, water or medicines left; some food has been supplied by local villagers and humanitarian groups at Garacad, Somalia, where the ship is presently anchored.
One of the Ghanaians spoke to a journalist towards the end of last month saying that the pirates had said, “If we don’t come up with anything reasonable they will kill some of us and sink the vessel”. Recently, however, the captives sent a more alarming text message to Citi FM, saying that the hijackers had threatened to kill them all and sell their organs. A Ghanaian crewmember later said at an interview that the hijackers had “come [to an] unkind, inhuman and terrible decision last night. Immediately after one of their commanders arrived on board, he said officially that if they don’t get their ransom ASAP they will slaughter us and remove our kidneys and hearts which are even higher than the cost of ransom they are requesting. Kindly forward this urgent news to all other embassies in Nairobi and human right watch worldwide ASAP.”
The crewmember begged for help. “The health situation is very bad because people are suffering from cough, diarrhoea, some dangerous skin diseases and others are also suffering from spinal cord problem…we are suffering- please, it is becoming unbearable. Please help us.”
The ongoing ordeal of the crew of the Iceberg 1 is almost six and a half months old. Ransom amounts for ships and instability within the Somali government, which is closer to being overrun by the rebel Al Shabaab, have both escalated during this period. The pirates seem to be getting more violent, perhaps seeing that there is no effective response to their criminal actions. The question begs to be asked: How long will we continue to hang out our seafarers to dry like this?