Thursday, 12 April 2012

Somali pirates threaten to kill Indian and South Korean hostages

Somali pirates are threatening to kill Indian and South Korean crewmembers if those nations do not free pirates that have been captured by their navies, reports say. A recently released video clip shown on 'Somali Channel' shows South Korean sailors surrounded by gun toting Somali pirates; the pirates say that the four hostages- believed to be from a Singapore flagged vessel that was hijacked almost a year ago- will not be released unless their demands are met.

The officers on the video- the Master, Chief Engineer, Chief Officer and Second Officer- say that they are in danger, suffer from pain and lack of food and water and are in poor health. They say that the Somali pirates are demanding, amongst other things, "millions of dollars" in compensation for the families of pirates who were killed last year by the South Korean navy. One hostage, Lee Sang-Ho, said that the pirates are also demanding the release of five Somalis taken prisoner last year who are now on trial in Korea. Pirates had released Indonesian, Chinese and Burmese crewmembers from the tanker, but- as with the seven Asphalt Venture Indian hostages- kept the South Koreans back.

Along with the US, India and South Korea have often mounted aggressive attacks on pirate mother ships last year; well over a hundred Somalis have been arrested and brought to India. Although recent reports have suggested that a deal is being struck between the pirates and Indian authorities to free the Indian crew taken ashore in Somalia when the 'Asphalt Venture' was ransomed in September last year, both South Korea and India have generally refused to negotiate with pirates. 

Robust Indian naval action against mother ships close to the country's western coast had resulted in the capture of well over a hundred Somali pirates early last year. The Asphalt Venture release later in the year brought into focus a new ploy by pirates- keeping nationals of some countries as bargaining chips even after a ransom had been paid. The Somali Ambassador to India had also requested the return of the Somali pirates held in Indian jails, even as reports emerged of ill treatment of Indians held by Somali pirates, not to speak of threats that are made periodically against their lives. 

Alastair Evitt, Chairman of SOS SaveOurSeafarers, points out that India has the second largest seafaring population and Indians constitute the second largest nationality held by Somali pirates- 65 out of 256, current figures show. "Out of the 40 additional seafarers being held ashore, with no ship to be ransomed, at least 7 are Indian. Hostages suffer both physically and psychologically while being held prisoners for ransom, and their families also suffer huge anguish for their loved ones."

Intelligence analyst Tim Hart at Maritime and Underwater Security Consultants in London says that the pirates have, today, a new motivation: revenge. "The ransom is still, obviously, very much at the top of their minds. However, they can focus an awful lot on the political aspect, especially when there has been more offensive action launched previously," he says, adding that this puts the hostages at greater risk today.

"This political turn, combined with the increased reports about more mistreatment of hostages, shows how that structured model is kind of breaking down and they are getting more and more desperate as their success level falls"


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