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.
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.