Thursday, 11 November 2010

Third Officer dies of ‘malnutrition and distress’ on hijacked ship.

Three others in similar situation-  6 Indians amongst crew

Azal shipping, the Dubai based owners of the Ro-Ro vessel Iceberg1, have now confirmed that a Yemeni Third Officer aboard their ship that was hijacked seven months ago has died. Ecoterra, a piracy monitoring group, had said last week that the sailor had died of ‘malnutrition and distress’. The other 23 crew, including six Indians, are in dire stratis, with three suffering similar conditions as the Yemeni before his death. One had to be tied down as he threatened to kill himself, according to reports. Meanwhile, the ship has run low on food and water and is completely out of medicine and generator fuel. The crew members are from India, Ghana, Sudan, Pakistan, Yemen and the Philippines.

This horrendous news comes on the back of earlier reports last month that had the pirates threatening to kill the Iceberg1 crew and sell their body parts; reports later indicated that these may have been just elaborate threats to get the owners to negotiate. The pressures that the crew are under must be tremendous, and are obviously not helped by the owners refusing, for the last two months, to negotiate seriously for ransom, according to news reports. Azal Shipping has held negotiations with the hijackers in September, but is unwilling to pay the ransom demanded from the hijackers. In fact, it seems that the owners have refused to pay any ransom, and even ignored demands for food, water, fuel and medicines for the crew. The two parties are ‘talking but not actually talking’, according to a spokesperson from Ecoterra, who says that a doctor needs to be urgently sent on board. Concerns are also being raised as to what the crew will do with the body of their dead comrade, as the freezer on board is obviously not working.

Meanwhile, the pirates have reportedly brought two skiffs on board and perhaps intend to take the vessel out at sea, using the crew as human shields in further attacks. This will not be the first time this has happened on the vessel: the Iceberg1 was renamed the “Sea Express’ in May and used as a mother ship, according to observers on the US destroyer McFaul. This was two months after the vessel, carrying generators, transformers and empty fuel tanks was hijacked from the Gulf of Aden and taken to Kulub in Somalia.

The ordeal of the crew of the Iceberg1 began on March 29 this year, when the Panama flagged vessel was taken just ten miles off the port of Aden. The international community could only watch as she was repainted with the name the ‘Sea Express’ and seen on May 19, presumably out on a piracy mission. The US McFaul could only shadow the Iceberg1 for a day and a half without taking any action, since about fifty armed pirates aboard made a rescue mission highly risky. Azal shipping refused to pay ransom and the ship is apparently not insured; conflicting reports later suggested that British cargo interests were incharge of negotiations, though Azal denied this.

In any case, nobody seems to have done much to get the crew released, or supplied with even minimal food, water, medicines or fuel. The situation aboard is clearly critical. It is believed that the Indians in the crew have contacted their government at home, pleading for some action to be taken. There seems to be deafening silence, from both the government and the Indian mainstream media, to the plight of our sailors cruelly held in Somalia for most of this year. To add to this usual dismal scenario, it appears that the shipowner is not even responding to requests for information now.


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