Friday, December 28, 2012
By PHILIP MWAKIO
The Seafarers Union of Kenya (SUK) has termed the release of 22 sailors aboard the ill-fated Iceberg 1 as great Christmas and New Year gift to the seafaring fraternity and their families.
The sailors have been in captivity for the last three years, making them some of the longest-held hostages after their capture by pirates in March of 2010.
Two of their colleagues are reported to have died while under the custody of Somali pirates.
Yesterday, SUK Secretary General Andrew Mwangura said crew members of the Panama-flagged Iceberg 1 are free and they are currently undergoing treatment before flying back home.
“The news of their release is a great Christmas and holiday present for the families of these seafarers who have had a horrific ordeal for the past 1,000 days. While we are overjoyed at the release of these 22 seafarers, we must not forget that two of their colleagues died in captivity and our thoughts are with the families,’’ Mwangura said in a statement to The Standard.
He said their thoughts and prayers are also with the more than 241 seafarers and fishermen still held hostage on other ships and in Somalia and called for action to hasten their release and safe return.
The crew members of the 5,402gt Panama-flagged Mv Iceberg 1 from the Philippines, India, Yemen, Sudan, Ghana and Pakistan were freed as a result of a two-week operation by Puntland Maritime Police Force in Garrad, Mudug region of Somalia.
Mwangura said early last week there was an exchange of gunfire between the Puntland marine forces and the captors where two hostages and some pirates and members of Puntland marine forces were reported to have died.
He said last October the captors had received a ransom of US $4 million.
He added that reports indicated that on October 23, last year, the pirates were to release the vessel, but would hold captive six Indian sailors until the government of India paid compensations to the dependents of Somali pirates killed at sea by Indian Navy.
Died in captivity
While in captivity, a Yemeni Chief Engineer of the vessel, Mohamed Abdallah Ali Khan, is said to have died under mysterious circumstances.
In February last year, the pirates said the engineer died as a result of malnutrition and distress.
His death brought to two the number of seafarers who have lost their lives aboard the vessel.
A total of 16 hostages have lost their lives in the hands of Somali pirates since January last year.
Mv Iceberg 1 was attacked and hijacked by armed pirates on March 29, 2010, in the Gulf of Aden at approximately 0930hrs.
Pirates armed with automatic weapons attacked and successfully boarded the ship. They took hostage 24 crew members and sailed the ship to Somalia.
On October 27 last year, a Yemeni 3rd Officer of the vessel, Wagdi Akram, died of malnutrition seven months after being taken hostage by Somali pirates.
According to the statement, a Ghanaian crew member of the vessel, Francis Koomson, confided in Mwangura that the deceased had suffered a nervous breakdown leading to him committing suicide.
Three of the remaining 23 crew members, owned by Dubai-based Azal Shipping, were also suffering similar conditions, the crew member said.
“Koomson told me that the deceased jumped overboard due to psychological problems,’’ Mwangura said.
The crew comprised eight Yemenis, six Indians, four Ghanaians, two Sudanese, two Pakistani and one Filipino.
Mv Iceberg 1 was sailing from the United Arab Emirates heading to the United Kingdom when she was attacked.
She is laden with generators, transformers and empty fuel tanks for British power rental company, Aggreko International Power Projects.
It was held captive in Dhinood by a pirate group known as Duwane under the leadership of Mohamed Duwane.
Currently, Somali pirates are holding captive 233 hostages aboard 11 Ocean-going vessels while eight hostages are being held captive ashore.
Piracy off the coast of Somalia has been a threat to international shipping since the second phase of the Somali Civil War in the early 21st century.
Since 2005, many international organisations, including the International Maritime Organisation and the World Food Programme, have expressed concern over the rise in acts of piracy.
A United Nations report and several other sources have suggested that piracy off the coast of Somalia is caused in part by illegal fishing.