Monday, 28 June 2010

Pirate cook smuggled AK47s for MV RIM’s crew before shootout

The singular saga of the MV RIM continues with new startling developments: reports now say that a cook from among the gang of pirates secretly helped the crew to kill their captors and escape with the ship. Ahmed, the pirate cook, may be now on the run, his whereabouts unknown.

Ahmed smuggled food for the crew as the situation slowly worsened on the RIM after ransom negotiations broke down, AP reports. He also brought them a SIM card from ashore so that they could talk to their families. When the frustrated pirate gang started discussing harvesting the terrified crew’s organs for cash, he smuggled in guns for the crew to defend themselves. The hostages then killed the pirates, started the RIM’s engines and escaped.

The remarkable story became known after 36 year old Romanian AB Virgil Teofil Cretu was interviewed in Costanta on his return home. Cretu says that although the pirates gave food and water to the crew for the first two months, rations were stopped as negotiations for ransom were bogged down. The crew, mainly Syrians, drank rainwater and cooked rice in seawater, until Ahmed started smuggling in meagre quantities of food. He also brought in a SIM card so that the crew could talk to their families back home.

Meanwhile, as owners and managers refused to pay any ransom, the ship and crew was ‘bought’ and ‘sold’ to other pirate gangs, with the crew hostage: sometimes by an armed pirate guard just 13 years old.

Four months after the hijack, on June 2, Ahmed told the crew that the pirates had decided to kill them and harvest their organs to make money. He then smuggled in three AK 47’s for the crew. Cretu, who has had compulsory army training in Romania and was wounded in the RIM gunfight, said at the interview, “All hell broke loose. There were six pirates guarding us. We started shooting. I shot like mad. The pirates were taken by surprise. They opened fire, shot each other also by mistake; this lasted for about 45 minutes. We annihilated them pretty quickly. Some we threw overboard, to the sharks. It was like being in a commando fight”

Cretu says that the Syrian crew nicknamed him Rambo after the attack, when the crew started the ship’s engines and sailed out of the pirate lair. One pirate hiding in a cabin jumped overboard when he saw that the ship was moving; other pirates chased the RIM in a speedboat, closing in as the RIM’s engines failed. Thankfully for the crew, an EU helicopter arrived in the nick of time. The crew and Ahmed were taken to the Dutch warship Johan de Witt; today, the Dutch authorities refuse to divulge any details of where Ahmed was taken later.

“In my mind, cook Ahmed was an angel sent by God,” says Cretu. “Without his intervention, without his courage, we would have been dead.”

Reid Stowe’s Odyssey

Reid Stowe, the maverick artist, painter, carpenter, new age thinker and sailor has just completed 1,152 days roaming around the oceans on a 70-foot schooner, the Anne, that he built himself. Stowe returned to New York last week after breaking a century old record for the longest sea voyage ever. For his entire voyage, Stowe has lived off his supplies, never put into port or set foot on land.

The epic voyage started in April 2007 with Stowe, 55 and girlfriend and rookie sailor Soanya Ahmed, 23, intending to spend three years at sea. Soanya had to leave after ten months when she got pregnant, transferring to a yacht well off the Australian coast. She returned home to New York where she gave birth to a boy. Stowe went on sailing alone; he said that Soanya’s departure was the most difficult time of the voyage. When he finally came into New York Habour last week, he said it was his first glimpse of land for more than two years. “The first people I’ve seen in years!” he shouted, as a boat carrying a United States Customs officer and half a dozen other people approached his schooner. “I was never lonely once in the whole voyage,” he told people later. “Being alone in the wildness and the beauty of nature is an enlightening experience.”

The voyage was not without difficulties. The Anne collided once with a containership, damaging her bowsprit that Stowe repaired at sea while drifting for a month. His sails were torn rounding Cape Horn and he even capsized once. Stowe spent his time sewing torn sails, performing other maintenance and doing regular yoga and meditation. He lived on rainwater, fish and sprouts grown on the boat, along with beans, cheese, oatmeal, pasta and rice. “I’ve still got enough food left for another year,” he told visitors in New York.

Stowe has faced great criticism, ridicule and even abuse on websites and elsewhere from many. Critics call him careless, a bad sailor and an exhibitionist. "Reid is a hazard to navigation," says a writer on the Sailing Anarchy website. "He dead yet?" asked another. Says Charles Doane, a sailing writer, "I can think of no other long-distance ocean sailor who has ever endured such relentless and venomous public abuse while actively engaged in a voyage."

The trip, an obsession with Stowe for long, took two decades to take off. Sponsors were finally found, and the voyage was nicknamed the Mars Ocean Odyssey: a voyage to study the stresses on an isolated, self-sustained crew over the length of a Mars mission. However, another Stowe goal was to break the record for the longest sea voyage: set in the 1890s, it was held by Fram, a Norwegian ship that was frozen in Arctic ice on a 1,067 day voyage.

Stowe was met on his return by Soanya and Darshen, the son that he had never seen. He stayed in touch, blogging from an onboard computer until last year when it broke down, after which his only means of communication was a satellite phone.

Stowe has built a berth on board for his son for future trips. He wants the three of them to live on the Anne on the New York waterfront. Besides this, he has no other plans after his remarkable voyage. “I have no wants at all,” he said. “I want to make everyone happy. I want to share the story.”

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

Chinese crew arrested in Ghana for throwing three stowaways overboard.

The Ghanaian authorities have detained the Chinese Ship MV Run Ning 3 and arrested three crewmembers after three stowaways were allegedly thrown overboard from the ship at sea; one of the stowaways has reportedly drowned, although his body has not been found.

The three stowaways, said to be Ivorians, were hiding in a crane when they were discovered by the Chinese crew, some of whom threw allegedly threw the men over the side. Djiba Kamara, 18, was rescued by a navy patrol on Sunday after he said he had been afloat for twelve hours in waters off Ghana. Another Ivorian, Omari Ceesay, 33, was found unconscious and is said to be in a stable condition at a naval hospital in the Ghanaian port city of Takoradi. Kondah Aziz, a third stowaway, could not swim and drowned, Kamara says. Kamara claims that the three was thrown overboard last Saturday night.

It is believed that the stowaways hid themselves on board the Run Ning 3 whilst she was docked at the Ivorian port of Abidjan. The ship then sailed for Takoradi to load bauxite, apparently for China, though the stowaways may have thought she was bound for the United States. In any event, Kamara told Ghanaian police that the three were discovered by the chief officer of the vessel who, together with his men, threw the stowaways into the sea in spite of their pleas for mercy. "They dumped Aziz first because he was the first to be discovered. Later, the two of us were also discovered and dumped," Kamara said.

After being picked up by a Ghanaian patrol boat, Kamara told police that he and Ceesay could prove that they were on the ship. "We had a black plastic bag which we used to store food and a hat which we used to clean our footprints in the vessel," he said. The Ghanaian authorities found the plastic bag and the hat when they boarded the vessel for investigation, exactly where Kamara said they were hidden. In addition, Kamara was able to identify Jiang Youg Sun, the Chief Officer of the Run Ning 3 and the cook, allegedly the mastermind behind the murderous act.

Amidu Mahama, Ghana's Western Region police commander, told the BBC that evidence had been found on board that appeared to corroborate the Ivorian survivor's story. He said the police are waiting for advice from Ghana's attorney-general and ministry of foreign affairs on how to proceed.

Meanwhile, the MV Run Ning 3 has been impounded and is currently docked at the Takoradi Port. The agents of the vessel are taking responsibility for the two surviving stowaways, providing them with food, shelter and medical facilities. Ghanaian National Security officials have ordered the vessel to stay put or the "Ghana Navy" would be sent after it.

Monday, 14 June 2010

The strange hijack of the MV RIM

Mumbai, June 10 Radio Netherlands reported three days ago that Dutch naval technicians say now that the MV RIM has been so badly damaged that it is a wreck. The country’s HNLMS Johan de Witt, part of ‘Operation Atlanta’, had gone to the assistance of the RIM’s crew after the ship was abandoned ‘at the request of the Master’. The crew is to be taken to Djibouti.

There are hugely conflicting reports about the ownership, crew nationality, cargo- and seemingly everything else- of this vessel; we suspect that the truth, as in the Arctic Sea hijacked in Europe last year, will never be known. The mysterious 4800 tonne general cargo ship MV RIM was seized by pirates on February 2 in the Gulf of Aden while on a passage from Eriteria to presumably Yemen- and eventually destined for a scrap yard in India. Initial reports suggested she was inside the security corridor at the time; these were suspiciously contradicted later. There are persistent rumours that she was carrying weapons for Yemeni rebels at the time she was taken.

Ecoterra reported that the ship was “North-Korean-flagged, originally Libyan owned general cargo vessel” that had a Syrian crew. Radio Netherlands tells us now that the crew nationality is unknown, but they are ‘possibly Romanian’. The coalition ship USS PORTER confirmed that the RIM had been hijacked.

The ship is still shown in official records as owned by White Sea Shipping of Tripoli in Libya, while in reality it was allegedly sold to another company for her last voyage with a cargo of clay.

The ship was first taken by the Somalis to LasKorey off the Gulf of Aden where it was fired upon by Puntland forces. She then sailed around the tip of the Horn of Africa to Garacad, later being shifted to an anchorage 5 miles off Kulub. The pirates threatened

to kill the Master if a $3million ransom was not paid. This, for a ship carrying clay and bound for the scrap yard, is a ridiculously high ransom, and gives credence to those arms trafficking rumours.

This Hollywood potboiler does not end there, though. Ecoterra reported, early this month, that “During a serious shoot-out between two rival pirate groups surrounding the sea-jacked MV RIM, leaving 9 Somalis dead, the Syrian crew of the vessel managed to overpower six pirates on board and to sail free. Maritime observers working with ECOTERRA Intl. reported that the crew is said to be all right and that the six Somalis are kept on board as captives”.

Four days later, the crew abandoned the vessel at the “request” of the Master. Strange words to use. We always thought that abandoning a ship was on the Captain’s orders.

Given geopolitics, we also think that there is much more than meets the eye here. An ex Libyan, now North Korean ship is hijacked and held for four months. Crew are probably Syrian. Different pirate groups seem to battle over it, and, in fact, kill each other for it. The crew then mysteriously takes over the ship after “overpowering” armed men, later abandoning the vessel. A 4800 tonne piece of scrap carrying a cargo of clay commands a ransom demand of 3 million dollars. We also wonder if those Somalis allegedly held on board by the crew of the RIM abandoned it as well, whether they were ‘requested’ to do so, and what tales they may have to tell.

The story sounds fantastic even without the North Korean, Libyan or Syrian connections. With those- and Chinese proximity to North Korea- in the mix, the tale becomes almost sinister.


Thursday, 3 June 2010

Government approves Marine Casualty Investigation Cell.

The Union Minister of Shipping, Shri G. K. Vasan, has, in written reply to a question in the Lok Sabha, revealed that the Government of India has approved the establishment of the Indian Marine Casualty Investigation Cell (IMCIC). The objective of the Cell is to undertake investigation into marine casualties, such as groundings, sinking, or collision of vessels or death or grievous injury or missing reports of seafarers.

The Shipping Ministry says that the prime function of the cell will be to conduct investigation into the causes of casualty and incidents in accordance with the provisions of the Merchant Shipping Act, 1958. To do this, it intends to keep the mandatory doctrines enshrined by the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) in mind, as they affect casualty investigation. It is believed that the Ministry wants to keep in line with international standards and practices detailed by the IMO as they pertain to any safety investigation into a marine casualty or marine incident. The IMCIC will see the formation of six new posts, including a deputy head and accident investigator, says the Shipping Ministry.

The Cell would be empowered to:

(i) Conduct investigation into causes of shipping casualties.

(ii) Co-opt experts for the conduct of casualty investigation.

(iii) Depute persons within and outside the country for casualty investigation and other related matters.

(iv) Publish reports of finding of casualty investigation in so far as its causes are concerned.

(v) Participate in national and international forum for investigation of marine accident related matters.

Some in the industry remain sceptical about the Government’s motives in settling this longstanding demand. "Better late than never," said a port professional from Mumbai, quoted in a leading mainstream newspaper. A faculty with the Indian Maritime University in Mumbai added, on condition of anonymity, "It would depend on the kind of people getting posted to the newly created posts. They should ideally know shipping laws and practice. Look at DG Shipping itself. As an administrative department, its commercial side is weak compared to its nautical side. Not only is the department is understaffed, but it is finding difficult to get the right people."

Marine incidents in India often see huge investigative delays. "Our experience has been that it takes more than 10 to 12 years to complete an investigation," says an observer. "There is no sense in delayed judgments, but what makes one sad is that they rarely get implemented. The DGS is sitting on some of the important judgements which have been pronounced nearly a year back. The year before last there were about half-a-dozen marine accidents, but no one knows what happened to the investigations made into them," he said.

"Decisions should be made quickly to have any meaning. Take the case of the oil spill in the US. They have acted on it instantly. Litigations, if any, are taken at a later date. Investigations should be completed within a short time frame and should be made public."

We hope that the Government is listening to these experienced voices.