Friday, 3 June 2011

Taiwanese fishing boat Captain killed in pirate-US warship crossfire.

Traumatised family seeks proof, compensation from the US

The Taiwanese skipper of that country’s fishing boat Jih-Chun Tsai 68 has been killed in crossfire between Somali pirates and a US naval warship, reports say. Captain Wu Lai-yu was taken hostage on March 30 this year; three Somali pirates are also believed to have been killed in the incident, and the fishing boat sunk by the actions of USS Stephen W. Groves, a U.S. Perry-class guided-missile frigate that is part of NATO’s anti-pirate fleet. The incident is supposed to have occurred ten days ago, on May 20.

Wu’s family are disbelieving of official reports, since negotiations for the return of the fishing boat and its crew were reportedly making headway when Taiwanese authorities informed them that Wu had been killed. It appears that Taiwan’s  Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) got the news only on May 21, and received Wu’s death certificate from the US just a couple of days ago. Wu’s body is said to have gone down with the fishing boat.

Taiwanese newspaper reports say that initial ransom demanded for the Jih Chun Tsai 68 and its 14 crew was a staggering US$8 million, with negotiations running into difficulties after international brokers intervened. There have been similar reports in other cases critical of mainly UK based negotiators who claim sole mandate to negotiate ransoms from the pirates, often bypassing owners completely. In any case, a deal was struck with the pirates last month: all of the crew were to be freed one month after the ransom was paid.

 Wu's wife now says she does not believe that Wu has been killed, and wants to see video footage of the assault on his vessel- which the pirates were using as a mother ship- for confirmation.  She is doubly traumatised since the news of her husband’s death came weeks after she received repeated phone calls from the hostage fishing boat: she says she could hear Wu crying and moaning as he was punched and hit with rifle butts. She once heard her husband screaming, "They're trying to break my legs."

Taiwanese authorities are reportedly seeking an explanation from the Americans. The government had earlier asked the shipping company and the local fisheries association to negotiate with the pirates. Taiwanese legislator Justin S. Chou has demanded a full explanation from his government “as to why such a tragedy occurred when both sides had finally agreed on the terms of a peaceful settlement”. "How come the government's so-called active rescue efforts ended up with the skipper losing his life?" Chou asked.

At one time, Wu had also pleaded with China's honorary consul general in Somalia, Mr. Zhou, for help, Chinese media reports say. Zhou later learnt that Wu’s legs had been broken and he had nothing but Chinese herbal medicine aboard to treat his agony. In recordings of pirate phone calls to Zhou, the reports say, Wu’s voice can be heard trembling and pleading, "Come to my rescue, would you? Please!"

The Captain’s family has urged MOFA to "find out the facts" and help it seek compensation from the United States.

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