PIRACY TODAY BLOG
ESPS Mendez Nunez and MV Royal Grace, image: EUNAVFOR - click for gCaptain story
Good news for another captive crew - the crew of the chemical tanker ROYAL GRACE have been released after a year's captivity. The crew have received initial medical treatment, and are apparently in pretty good shape.
We'll follow up on this story as more becomes known - the ship is said to be en route for Muscat, where presumably the crew will be relieved and re-storing & repairs will be done on the ship. Click on the photo above for the story on gCaptain's site.
You'll have noticed that we haven't posted in a while, and that the website landing page still refers to the captive crew of MV ICEBERG 1 - who were thankfully released some time ago. The explanation is that our group - all volunteers, with day jobs - have relaxed a bit, after the long-awaited release of the Iceberg 1 crew that originally brought us into existence. We've had to refocus this organization, and as our members come from all over the world, that has taken some time.
Our new thrust will be to cover piracy victims everywhere in the world, and to act as a link between piracy victims and those entities that exist to help them and their families.
Our Mission Statement will be updated shortly - we're still awaiting input from some of our members. At that time the landing page will be updated to reflect our new aims and services, and we'll begin a series of new ventures aimed at helping seafarers worldwide.
Please consider joining the MAG and putting in your two cents about what piracy victims, and seafarers in general want and need. We need your point of view and your energy - and so do they.
It's not about gaining a high number of members - membership in the MAG is free, and always will be. It's that your point of view is one that no one else has; your knowledge or experience may suggest something that turns out to be crucial. We need you!
So stay tuned! And keep working and praying for piracy victims and their families.
PIRACY TODAY BLOG
The men right after their rescue - click for Mumbai Mirror story
It's been easy to get wrapped up in the good news that the Iceberg 1 hostages are off their Hell ship and home again. Our tendency may be to think that their problems are now substantially over - the torture, beatings and starvation are now things of the past, and they're back in the bosom of their loving families.
But these three news items tell a different story. Here's the lead sentence from the Mumbai Mirror: "Seaman Swapnil Jadhav, 25, still shivers at the slightest noise. Held captive for 33 months by pirates in Somalia, Jadhav is yet to come to terms with his release along with four other Indian sailors." The story goes on to detail the efforts of psychiatrist Dr Harish Shetty and the MPHRP to help Swapnil and the other recovering Indian sailors.
The Times Of India reports: "They are still haunted by memories of their detention: spending four months next to a freezer with a body inside, and witnessing their officers being hung upside down and tortured and the ears of a senior officer being chopped off."
Or look at this story from DNA India, quoting Dr. Shetty: “There is agitation, sleeplessness and anger. But they are strong and coping well. It will take a while to heal their body and mind.”
And these stories from several days ago in the Inquirer Global Nation and The National detail the problems that all the freed seamen are having collecting their back pay from Azal Shipping - who owe them, in most cases, over three years' wages! Think of the effect on their families at home over the past three years, as they've struggled not only with fear for their loved one's safety, but with penury as well. These family members have been victims, too.
In spite of this, one rescued sailor, 31-year old Gerald Gonzales of the Philippines, says that he will probably go back to sea after he recovers. But next time, he says, he will be more careful who he works for.
The ITF and MPHRP, among others, are working to assist the battered men and to recover their wages. This blog will be keeping our eyes and ears open for other news, or any action we can support to get justice for the former hostages.
If you hear of any such initiatives, we'd thank you to let Piracy Today know so we can help spread the word and garner support. We all owe these men our prayers and support - for, "there, but for the grace of God, go I."
PIRACY TODAY BLOG
MV Iceberg 1 beached & derelict - click for The Maritime Executive story
THE ITF (International Transport Workers Federation) has issued a call for Panama - flag state of the long-held MV Iceberg 1 - to join in helping the 22 recently rescued crew members.
The freed men are trying to cope with the medical and psychological aftereffects of their brutal 33-month captivity, and are attempting to rebuild their lives.
The men have not been helped by the fact that their employer, Azal Shipping & Cargo, stopped the men's pay as soon as they were captured. So some of the men are returning home to families who have been devastated by the nearly three-year interruption of financial support.
The returned captives have begun to receive help from UNPOS, the United Nations Office on Drugs & Crime Hostage Support Program, the Maritime Piracy Humanitarian Response Programme (MPHRP), and the ITF, among others.
According to ITF seafarers’ section chair Dave Heindel: “There is a good understanding across the shipping industry of just how much these seafarers and their families have suffered over the last three years, and it’s no surprise that some people in the industry have offered financial support. However, we’d particularly like the flag state, which in this case is Panama, to join them and us in sponsoring this relief effort.”
“It is unfortunate that the flag state has not discharged its duty of care set out by the IMO to these seafarers during their captivity, even though they were serving on a vessel flying its flag. There is now an opportunity for it to contribute to their support and rehabilitation.”
“The cruel and barbaric treatment meted out to these mariners must serve as a constant reminder of why pirates have to be fought, pursued and prosecuted.”
Mutilated crewman Mohamad Abdulla Ali - click for The Marine Cafe Blog post
The IMO Guidelines For Flag States include the following:
4.1 A State's counter-piracy policy should contain measures regarding the eventuality that a ship entitled to fly its flag is captured, and to ensure that, as far as possible, the humanitarian needs of the crew and families are addressed during the period of captivity and after release. In particular, it should ensure that:
.1 shipowners operating ships entitled to fly its flag are aware of and implement the guidance contained in MSC.1/Circ.1390, Guidance for company security officers (CSOs) – Preparation of a Company and crew for the contingency of hijack by pirates in the Western Indian Ocean and the Gulf of Aden;
.2 the shipowner or operator of a ship captured by pirates keeps the families of hijacked seafarers informed of relevant developments; and
.3 shipowners look after the welfare of captured seafarers and their families.
4.2 The Administration should establish, as necessary, plans and procedures to assist owners, managers and operators of ships entitled to fly its flag in the speedy resolution of hijacking cases occurring in the waters off the coast of Somalia, including the Gulf of Aden and the western Indian Ocean.
No more has been heard yet about Dheeraj Tiwari, the brave First Officer who was taken off the ship by the pirates over a year before it was freed by PMPF last month. Although he was not among those rescued in December, his family, too, is in distress. Where has Panama been?
Prominent maritime blogger Barista Uno put it like this: "Panama should be ashamed. The ITF (International Transport Workers’ Federation) is now having to call on it to help the recently released crew of the Panama-flagged MV Iceberg 1 recover from their ordeal in the hands of Somali pirates. Panama should have been amongst the first to come to their succor. Its seeming lack of concern doesn’t speak well of the country. Is Panama only after the money to be made from operating the world’s largest ship register?"
PIRACY TODAY BLOG
Mohamad Abdalla Ali returns home - click for TheNational story
I know everyone's heard about the rescue, just before Christmas, of the 22 surviving sailors on MV Iceberg 1. Those men had been held by Somali pirates since March of 2010 - a total of 33 miserable months!
The men were finally freed by the Puntland Maritime Police Force (PMPF), a UAE-financed force meant to combat piracy on the ground in Puntland. It's said that the owner of the Iceberg's cargo (and not the shipowner, Azal Shipping of Dubai) paid $1.5 million to the Puntland government for the operation.
Azal had abandoned the ship and crew early on, either because the company lacked the funds to ransom the crew, or because they were unwilling to pay the price. I read that in one ransom negotiation, the pirates asked for $3.5 million and Azal countered by offering $300,000. Either Azal were not seriously negotiating - playing fast and loose with innocent men's lives - or else, Azal is a very poorly-financed or poorly-run shipping company! Azal also stopped the men's pay after their capture, adding to the stress and suffering of their families. Any prudent seaman should think twice before accepting employment with Azal Shipping in future - or any other company with a similar record.
(I hope pretty soon to be able to suggest a mechanism by which companies like this can be exposed and tracked, so that seamen seeking employment can see which companies have taken care of their men and which ones haven't - but more on that in a later post.)
If you've been following the MV Iceberg 1 case, either in the news, on the MV Iceberg 1 Mariners Action Group website, or on my own The Chain Locker blog, you know that the captives have suffered absolutely horrific treatment over the last 33 months. They've been subjected to extremely close confinement with no fresh air, exercise, even little sunlight; and they've been routinely deprived of food and clean water. In addition they've been subjected to regular beatings, torture, psychological abuse and death threats - even maimings, such as Yemeni seaman Mohamad Abdulla Ali having his ears sliced. It was all too much for Yemeni 3rd officer Wagdi Akram, who in despair committed suicide over two years ago. But all the survivors carry scars, on their bodies and on their souls.
How would you or I react to such treatment? We never really know until we're forced to face it. As a young patrol boat crewman, I remember our POW training before being sent to Vietnam back in the 1960s. I was a foolish, fit young 19-year-old at the time, and thought nothing could beat me! But our short week of survival and POW camp training quickly humbled me. And we were primarily outside and active, even in the mock POW camp. We also knew it was only an exercise, and we knew the time limit.
The men of MV Iceberg 1 have been exposed to far more debilitating treatment, for a far longer time - and the same goes for all the men in pirate captivity. Daily, indeterminate misery, with no end in sight - sometimes beginning to believe, as several of the Iceberg captives stated, that no one is ever going to come for you, or that your suffering can end only in death - that experience would sap the strongest spirit.
Stories of pirate captivity often relate how shipboard discipline breaks down, each man for himself; some men even going over to the pirate side, out of self-interest or due to the "Stockholm syndrome". Until we're tested ourselves, we don't know who we might become, or what we might do, under those conditions.
But some men pass the test! There was at least one such man on the MV Iceberg 1: First Officer Dheeraj Kumar Tiwari. Mr. Tiwari seems never to have forgotten his responsibility to his men as a senior officer, second-in-command of the ship. According to the men who were rescued last month, Mr. Tiwari repeatedly placed himself in harm's way to protest the mistreatment of others in the crew, drawing upon himself many beatings as a result. He also acted as spokesman for the crew, as testified by recorded phone calls and video interviews such as the one above.
At 27 - still a young man - he showed the kind of courage, steadiness, and care for his men that every Master should display. I've no doubt that, if he yet survives, he will become one.
"If" he survives? Yes - sadly, Mr. Tiwari was not rescued with the others, and his whereabouts and condition are unknown. This hero disappeared from the ship in September, 2011, after a severe beating. Members of the crew who inquired about him were told by the pirates that they did not know where he had gone - an unlikely story.
Some of the crew thought that the pirates may have been hiding the fact that Mr. Tiwari had been murdered, but at this point no one knows. He could still be held ashore - perhaps he was taken off the ship because he persisted in standing up to the pirates. But, since the last group of pirates who were holding the ship eluded capture and can't be questioned, we may not learn the truth for some time. The Puntland government has pledged to find them, but that may be difficult.
Dheeraj Tiwari's family, led by his father Purushottam Tiwari, are appealing for news of their son. Admittedly, it's unlikely that any of us will be able to help the family directly. But if anyone reading this comes across any news, or hears anything that could be of any help to this brave man or his anxious family, please relay it immediately to the MV Iceberg 1 Mariners Action Group Facebook page - I know that members of the Tiwari family are monitoring the Facebook page, and I'll ensure that they hear about it.
Dheeraj Kumar Tiwari courageously stood up for others - let's do anything we possibly can for him!
You're looking at a new phone. You wonder whether it's right for you. Is the quality good? Can you read the screen in sunlight? How is the software? If you just read the company ads, everything looks great - but is that the whole story? How can you tell more about what using that phone would really be like, before you spend your hard-earned cash?
As modern users of technology, we know the answer to that question. If we want to know things about that phone that we won't see in the ads, we check the user reviews - every product has them.
The company may not tell us that the battery life is short - but user reviews will quickly point that out. The company won't mention that the phone may have signal problems when held a certain way - users will squawk about that immediately. If we want the truth, we'll want to see what people who have actually used that phone are saying!
And though any one review may not be useful to us, reading many reviews will give us a good idea of the phone's real strengths and weaknesses, and how it compares to other similar phones. Reading user reviews, just like talking to actual users, gives us a much better basis for making our decision about that phone. After all, those folks have already bought the phone and lived with it - and we can learn from their experience.
What if we could do the same thing with shipping companies - what if we could easily check with other seamen who had worked for that outfit and knew the inside story? What if we could find out from a company's own employees whether they're often late paying their crews, or find out what kind of food they serve - learn whether they abide by Union standards, or pay attention to safety?
Knowing those things would give us a better basis for making employment decisions - and it would also increase pressure on substandard companies to shape up. Qualified seafarers are needed by the world's fleets. But substandard companies who have been publicly "named and shamed" would have trouble attracting good men.
You can say that we already know about companies' reputations - after all, who gossips more than sailors? But companies come and go, they merge, they change flags and names. A central repository of constantly updated company information, supplied by sailors and publicly available on the Web, would spread the word much faster - and might save some men from miserable experiences. It could shift the balance of power ever so slightly in the seaman's favor.
Think - what kind of company was Azal Shipping? We know they didn't invest in piracy insurance, and took a dangerous shortcut that made them more vulnerable to pirate attack. And the crew paid the price. If they had known more about Azal Shipping, would some of MV Iceberg 1's sailors have made a different decision about working there? Maybe they wouldn't be hostages today.
This idea - making a useful, confidential tool for sailors to "rate" their companies - is one that we've been discussing among the MAG membership, and I wanted to throw it open to the readers of this blog: Would you, as a working seaman, be willing to confidentially rate the company you work for - knowing that other seamen would benefit from what you had to say?
If such a tool existed, how should it work - how could it be made easy to use and easy to access? Can you point us to any existing tools that you use and like to rate other things? Let me know what you think, even if you think it's dumb idea - then tell me why, and what you think would work better.
Knowledge is power. Let's build something that will help seamen!
PIRACY TODAY BLOG
Royal Grace & MT Smyrni off Rasu Bina - click for MarEx news item
Many readers, especially in India. will be familiar with this story. Briefly, MT ROYAL GRACE, a tanker, was hijacked in March off the coast of Oman by Somali pirates. Here is a bare-bones rundown of the current situation from Maritime Executive.Like MV ICEBERG 1, one crewmember has died, in this case from a medical problem that I'm sure couldn't be properly addressed because he was hostage. According to this story in The Hindu, ROYAL GRACE's captors have threatened to begin drowning the men, one at a time, if their demands are not met by 30 November.
Families of hostages - click for The National
The MT ROYAL GRACE hostages' families have besieged India's Shipping Ministry in Delhi - to what effect, I'm not sure. None of the news items I've seen, including this recent dateline from The National, indicate that they've gotten any sort of action yet.
Indeed, I have no suggestions for action that could make a difference in this very short term, either. The drownings are supposed to begin today! The threat may be pirate hyperbole, but if you were a hostage's parent, would you want to take that chance? You'd want action now. What would that be? There is military action - which would in itself endanger the hostages. Or the Indian government could pay the ransom itself, since the shipping company, as in the MV ICEBERG 1 case, has apparently abandoned the men. But that would set a precedent that might result in similar threats against current Indian hostages, already at risk - see this earlier post - and it would increase the danger of capture for other Indian mariners. The fog of helplessness swirling around these hostages - and all the pirate hostages of all nationalities, including those of MV ICEBERG 1 - seems as thick as ever.
This most recent hostage saga points up at least two things for me: One is that by letting hostage negotiations drift along as we do, we make it almost inevitable that an impasse like this one will eventually arrive. At this stage of negotiation, most of the options are bad ones. There is a leadership vacuum here, and until someone fills it, this sort of thing will continue - and add to the suffering and death of more seamen. Who will fill this vacuum? India has made somewhat encouraging noises at the UN lately, but we'll see if those words bear fruit in action. We should support the Indian government if it does begin to move in earnest.
The second thing that occurs to me is that the MT ROYAL GRACE families, as usually seems to be the case with hostage families, are apparently acting entirely on their own. They don't seem to be in combination with any other hostage families, and seem to have no way to amplify their voices and focus their protest. This could be only my perception, as I'm not on the scene, so correct me if I'm wrong. But the pictures of the families standing humbly outside the Shipping Ministry in their grief and pain, apparently being ignored by the bureaucracy within, seems insupportable to me. It should infuriate us all!
Shipping companies by nature follow their own concerns, and are unlikely to cooperate very much on this issue - many of them seem unable even to address the capture of their own ships. Individuals are often powerless to do more than try to speak out publicly as countless hostage families have already done, usually to little effect. Seamen, too, as a group are relatively powerless and uninvolved, although some of this is our own fault. As one of MV Iceberg 1 Mariners Action Group's members has stated in his blog, "Many of us - seamen - are cynical about our industry, weary with the crap dished out to us, feel powerless to change anything, and feel that a petition will accomplish nothing."
But why not come together behind action that recognizes our common dilemma and amplifies our voices? MV Iceberg 1 MAG has started a petition to the Indian Shipping Ministry and the Indian President. Consider adding your voice by signing it right now.
If you've seen that petition, but don't feel that it adequately addresses the issue, get Mariners Action Group to put forward one that does. Comment below and tell us what you think would be better. Your opinion would be welcome and would be heeded.Or, start your own petition - there are links to do so through Change.org right on the MV Iceberg 1 petition page. I promise you that if you do start a petition of your own, I'll sign it and help spread the word! We need the world's attention focused on our problem, and action taken to address it. It doesn't matter who, or how - no one group's action is more important than anyone else's, if it leads toward a solution that gets these seamen home. And think: if seamen don't treat these hostages as important, why should the rest of the world?
As a group - as seamen - we can take this issue and make it important. No one else will do this for us. The images of distressed hostage families standing hopelessly outside the Shipping Ministry should galvanize us all. Don't leave them standing there - let's support them, and all hostages and their families, by doing what we can today! We're all in this together.
PIRACY TODAY BLOG
Sometimes it seems as if you're almost buzzing in a vacuum - that your life is confined in a finite space containing family and friends, shipmates when at sea, and expanded just a little by hopes for the future; hopes you may be afraid to believe in, when you can look back on so many dashed hopes in the past! Then someone speaks up, and for a moment your familiar, finite world is lighted with possibility and new direction.
That has happened lately to us at MV Iceberg 1 Mariners Action Group. We've had some new watch mates tail onto the rope and begin to pull vigorously! Let's take time to meet some of the folks who have decided to help tackle our daunting, some might say impossible, task: to free these prisoners.
These generous souls have taken up the cause in more than words. They've signed the petition, blogged about Mariners Action Group on their websites and spoken up in public. Their support is living action. We'd like to recognize and thank them now:
Barista Uno, seaman and author of the excellent, well-known Marine Cafe Blog has offered to run ads for the MAG and to help bring attention to the petition.
Influential maritime blogger Manu, the author of the fine blogs Manu's Scripts, Manu's News, and Postcards from Styx, and also a former sea captain with broad experience in the maritime world, has joined the MAG and signed the petition. You can read about his conflicted emotions as he did so, because, as he says, "I don't like petitions".
Hennie la Grange, of International Christian Maritime Association (ICMA) featured MV Iceberg 1 in a blog post, and joined the MAG. They are praying for the MV Iceberg 1 captives, too.
Christina Sun, a gifted artist and maritime activist who has done great work chronicling the rich maritime world of New York harbor, joined, signed the petition, spoke up publicly about MV Iceberg 1 at an NAMEPA Safety at Sea seminar, and is creating a logo for the MAG. Don't miss her site here.
Each one of these people saw a chance to push for change in the terrible status quo the MV Iceberg 1 prisoners have fallen into.
It may seem almost impossible that we, as fellow seamen, can make any difference in their lot. When did the world ever listen to seamen? We're not an influential group. But that doesn't mean we should give up and abandon them to their fate and to the actions of the powerful interests. I think we seamen have something to say, too, and we should say it.
So please have a look at the petition, and add your name! As Manu noted: "In any case, you have nothing to lose if you sign except your cynicism."
PIRACY TODAY BLOG
I wanted a picture for the head of this post, so I looked through the few photos we have of MV Iceberg 1 or her crew. You see this picture over and over, because it's one of very few photos of any of the crew. Do you ever get tired of looking at it?
That photo is actually quite old - I don't know precisely when it was taken, but it was fairly early in the crew's captivity. Look at the men. If they were dejected then, if they were tired, sick, and hopeless then, think what they must be feeling today. We may be tired of this photo - but think of how tired these men and their shipmates are of their endless captivity and abuse!
This group - MV Iceberg 1 Mariners Action Group - was formed by fellow mariners with one goal in mind: to help bring pressure to free these hostages. It has taken us a while to get organized, but your support and encouragement have helped a lot. Now our first petition is ready for your signature. You can find the petition here.
This is the first of what we intend to be many petitions directed toward company or government officials, or other persons who might be able to help these hostages. This one is directed toward the President of India, Mr. Shri Pranab Mukherjee, and the Indian Minister of Shipping, Mr. Shri G. K. Vasan.
Other petitions will target other individuals; you can influence the content and direction of future petitions! And Mariners Action Group needs your help. Let us know who else should be petitioned, and what you think those petitions should say. And support this initial petition with your signature!
One of this group's founders, a shipmaster in his own right, put it like this: If MV Iceberg 1 was sinking, we'd rush to their aid with everything we had. Why is the world letting these men founder in captivity without lifting a finger? They're dying just the same as if their ship was going down. MV Iceberg 1 may not be sinking, but we still need to do what we can.
We're all human beings - many of us are seamen or are members of a seaman's family - we know these hostages need freedom now! Let's make this petition a living testament to our support for them. Please sign it, and tell your shipmates and friends. Think of the support you'd like to see if you were hostage - and act today!
PIRACY TODAY BLOG
Click photo for Safety4Sea news story
"BOURBON confirms that the 7 crew members, 6 Russians and 1 Estonian, abducted during the boarding of the Bourbon Liberty 249 off the coast of Nigeria, on October 15, 2012, were released today." So begins a story on Safety4Sea telling us that these men have been released, are receiving care from the Bourbon Emergency Unit in Nigeria, and will soon be back with their families.
See the story of their capture, several weeks ago, here.
Citing confidentiality, no details have been released relative to ransom demands, payment, or anything else about how the release was negotiated. Bourbon thanked those who supported and encouraged them while bringing about the men's release, including the Nigerian authorities and the Nigerian, Russian, Estonian, Luxemburg and French Governments.
We're glad these men have been so quickly freed! It powerfully demonstrates the importance of a company committed to vigorous action on behalf of their employees in harms way - and it shows the good that can be done by national governments who step forward to support their own captured citizens.
Someone cared about these men, took action, and now they are free. I wish every hostage situation could end as well as this one!
PIRACY TODAY BLOG
I wanted to bring you a status report on where Mariners Action Group is at the moment - and also to ask you an important question. In some ways, things are very encouraging: it's obvious that many people around the world are moved to support the MV Iceberg 1 captives, as indicated by the over 3,000 "Likes" on the Mariners Action Group Facebook page. And the Mariners Action Group website has had encouraging traffic. This blog has received some good, informed comments, and we welcome more of them. All these things are positive, especially given the short time the MV Iceberg 1 Mariners Action Group has been in existence. But the number of people who have stepped forward to become active members has been small - as of right this minute, as you can see by visiting the membership site (to go there, click the yellow button in the Join Us tab) only five people have committed to membership. Some of this can be explained by the newness of the MV Iceberg 1 Mariners Action Group - people are still thinking about it, perhaps, and some of you may be waiting to see what we accomplish. We respect that serious approach. You have a right to see results before you take action.That leads to the question: what, in your view, should the Mariners Action Group be doing right now? You are the key!It's very important that we hear from you! Mariners Action Group is not some effort you join and help with at someone else's direction. It's not an initiative run by a government, the maritime regulators or the industry.
Mariners Action Group is designed to be directed by it's members - by you - the seaman who bears the brunt of the piracy problem. This organization was started by professional seamen for the benefit of professional seamen, and we want seamen to direct it. You are the key.
Whether you're an active mariner, the member of a seaman's family, or simply concerned about the injustice and gross human rights abuses endured by the pirate hostages - if you choose to be a supporter, we need your voice. You know what needs to be done - and, probably better than anyone else, you know how to do it.
For instance, right now Mariners Action Group is trying to target our first petition, on behalf of the MV Iceberg 1 hostages. Can you help us direct it - who does your experience tell you will be the most productive target for this petition?
Some of you have said that you've already launched petitions on behalf of the hostages. Please tell the rest of us what you've learned in the process - how to avoid pitfalls and wasted effort - what you would do differently the second time around. This is wisdom that only you can provide. You are the key!
Together, we have strength, resources and wisdom none of us possess separately.
What you've learned during your struggle can empower and guide the rest. Please take that responsibility, exercise that leadership. Whether it's to help target a petition, or to suggest other actions the organization should take, your voice is essential.
The hostages and their families are counting on you! In every sense, truly - you are the key.