Monday, 15 October 2012

Amidst deadlines, threats and pleas, seafarers wait for deliverance from pirates

                                                 Chief Engineer Bahadur Singh pleading for help

Mumbai, October 10 For one reason or another, the last two weeks have seen a spate of news about seafarers held hostage by Somali pirates. These include the seven ill-fated Indian members of the crew of the Asphalt Venture, who have been held for two years, even after their ship and the rest of the crew were released. A recent YouTube video shows a bunch of emaciated Indian seamen, including the Chief Engineer, pleading to the Government of India and other functionaries for help.

In other connected news, Somali pirates issued a two-week deadline for the payment of a 700,000 dollar ransom for seven Bangladeshi mariners taken in 2010 when their ship ‘Albedo’ was hijacked. The pirates threatened that they would start killing the seamen one by one thereafter. Family members say that pirates contact them regularly to try to pressurise them. The crew is surviving on just two pieces of bread and a litre of unpurified drinking water- hands and legs tied- in an undisclosed location in Somalia. At a press conference in Chittagong, the father of the kidnapped Aminul Islam revealed that pirates had called him the previous day, saying that they would kill his son unless the ransom was paid; the Indian hostage is believed to have been killed some time ago. The families of the hostage Bangladeshi’s are now pleading to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina for help. 

The Indian hostages from the Asphalt Venture appear pathetic in the video, appealing to political leaders across the spectrum. “Our condition is very bad. I don’t know what action the government is taking. We have been here for a very long time now. We are fed up and mentally tensed. Our health is not good. So we are requesting the honourable President of India, honourable Prime Minister, UPA President Mrs Sonia Gandhi and opposition leader Mrs Sushma Swaraj to please save us. Save our life. We want our release. Please help us,” appeals Chief Engineer Bahadur Singh, who, along with the others, was taken hostage in September 2010. 

"We want our lives, please help us, please save us," he says.

Eight of the crew were released along with the ship in April 2011, but seven Indians were taken ashore. Somali pirates said at the time that they would be set free only if about a hundred Somali pirates held in India were released. The vessel’s Second Officer Unnikrishnan is reported to be diabetic and in urgent need of medicines.

Meanwhile, families of four South Korean sailor hostages of the tanker ‘Gemini’ are pleading with their government to do something to secure their freedom. Captured in April 2011, most of the crew were released after a ransom of $6 million was paid. However, in a development quite akin to that of the Asphalt Venture, the Korean crew were retained, allegedly because of South Korean action after the Samho Jewellery hijack, when that ship was boarded by Korean commandos who reportedly shot dead 8 Somali pirates.

A failed rescue attempt of the Koreans in November was blacked out by the media on Korean government insistence, and it is only now that their plight has become better known. The wife of the tanker’s Chief Officer, Kim Jeong-Sook, said, “We tried to hold this kind of news conference before, but the government and the company told us to stay quiet and just wait. So we trusted the company and the government and just waited.”


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