[Image courtesy of Somaliareport.com]
Seven Bangladeshi sailors, who were abducted by Somali pirates from a Malaysian flag-carrying merchant ship in the high seas more than four-and-a-half years ago, are still in captivity and leading miserable lives as ransom has not been paid yet.
Neither the government nor the human rights organisations and the recruiting agencies concerned have taken any significant step for freeing the abducted Bangladeshi sailors over the last four-and-a-half years, family members alleged.
A gang of Somali pirates hijacked the Malaysian-flagged container ship, MV Albedo, from the Indian Ocean in November 2010. It had a crew of 23, including Pakistanis, Indians, Bangladeshis, Sri Lankans and Iranians. The Somali pirates have demanded US $7 million for freeing the Bangladeshi sailors.
The seven abducted Bangladeshi sailors were identified as Golam Mostafa, Aminul Islam, Habibur Rahman, Zakir Hossain, Abul Quasem Sardar, Limon Sarker and Nurul Haque.
“It is a matter of concern that our seven sailors are leading miserable lives in the captivity of Somali pirates for four years. We shall compel the state to bring back our sailors from the captivity of the Somali pirates,” National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) chairman Prof. Mizanur Rahman told The Independent on Tuesday.
There is scope for the NHRC to work in this connection, he said, adding that it will exert pressure on the government to bring back the sailors from the clutches of the Somali pirates. The state would have to take initiatives to rescue the sailors, he added.
Nurul Islam, father of one of the hostages, Aminul Islam, told The Independent on Tuesday that he communicated with his son on March 14. “The abducted Bangladeshis are leading miserable lives in the captivity of the Somali pirates. The pirates are not supplying adequate food; alarmingly, the pirates don’t supply food even for two or three days,” he said in reply to a query.
“The authorities once finalised negotiations for freeing the Bangladeshi sailors from the captivity of the Somali pirates, but this failed as funds were not available,” he further said.
Iqbal Hossain, elder brother of Zakir Hossain, said, “The abducted sailors are losing their mental balance as they have to stay in a suffocating room for a long time.” Iqbal had communicated with his brother earlier this month over phone.
Two Sri Lankans out of six, one Iranian and one Indian out of two are still alive and are being held hostage by the pirates, he said.
Four Sri Lankans and one Indian died when the ship sank, he said, adding that the Bangladeshi sailors were able to save their lives by swimming away from the ship.
Shipping minister Shahjahan Khan said they were trying, through different channels, to free the Bangladeshi sailors from the clutches of the Somali pirates. He advised Bangladeshi sailors to sign up with the government shipping office at Chittagong before taking up jobs at home or abroad in ocean-going ships.
Chief engineer of the department of shipping, AKM Fakhrul Islam, said they are trying to solve the problems through negotiations.
The sailors who were abducted did not communicate with the government shipping office before taking up their jobs with the Malaysian ship, he said, adding, “We have no responsibility in this regard. But we have taken the initiative on humanitarian grounds.”
The department of shipping has repeatedly requested the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) to exert pressure on the Malaysian ship-owner to ensure that the Bangladeshi sailors are released, he further said.
Meanwhile, a probe committee formed by the department of shipping, headed by executive magistrate Syful Hasan, has identified the agencies which recruited the sailors for the ship. The agencies are: BNF Shipping Services, International Marine Services and Ever Cheer Marine Services.
“From 2005 to 2012, 179 ships were hijacked off the coast of Somalia and the Horn of Africa. The average ransom paid was USD 2.7 million, with ordinary pirates receiving USD 30,000 to USD 75,000 each. Bonuses were paid to those who brought their own weapons or were the first to board the ships,” sources said.
Some 3,500 pirate vessels are plying on the Indian Ocean and Gulf of Aden.
The hijacked vessel was carrying containers and was bound for Mombasa from Jebel Ali in the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
MV Albedo, IMO number 9041162 and built in 1993 with a dry weight of 15,566 tonnes, is owned by Malaysia-based Enrich Shipping. It was attacked by pirates on November 26, 2010, while on its way to Jebel Ali, 293 miles west of Maldives on the Indian Ocean, he said.
The shipping company — Majestic Enrich Shipping Sdn. Bhd., located at unit 04, 7th Floor, Menara Boustead Penang, 39, Jalan Sultan Ahmad Shah, Pulau Pinang, Pulau Pinang, 10050 in Malaysia — has already declared the ship abandoned and has refused to recover the vessel, according to sources in the shipping department.
Meanwhile, seven Pakistani hostages of the hijacked ship were released on July 31, 2012, after more than 20 months in captivity, following the payment of a ransom of USD 1.2 million.
The Somali pirates had hijacked a Bangladeshi ship, MV Jahan Moni, carrying 26 Bangladeshi citizens on 5 December 2010, and released it after three months.
Most hijackings end without casualties when ransom is paid, often after several months of negotiations.
The attacks are being carried out by increasingly well-coordinated Somali gangs armed with automatic weapons and rocket-propelled grenades, maritime officials disclosed. The Horn of Africa nation has been without a functioning government since 1991, and remains one of the world’s most violent and lawless countries.
Maritime Security News Note:
It must be said that the way the world seems to ignore the plight of ‘non-Westerners’ hijacked and kept in captivity by Somali pirates is truly terrible. The fact that Western hostages largely (with the notable exception of Michael Scott Moore) achieve international media attention which often speeds up the release process, whilst Indian, Pakistani, Filipino, Sri Lankan, Bangladeshi and Iranian hostages remain in their captors’ hands for far longer should really shame the shipping and insurance industries and those citizens’ governments. The military will tell you their hands are tied, and to an extent that’s true. Unless you’re American, of course, in which case you can generally expect a rescue mission… unless you’re Michael Scott Moore, that is.
The Pakistani hostages from the Albedo were finally released after a long-running campaign by their relatives, who managed to raise the ransom figure with the backing of wealthy donors. Clearly, no-one has come forward to do the same for the final crew members, who continue to be held in appalling conditions. Several countries continue to lobby for the payment of ransoms to be made illegal. One need only to look at the plight of the 54 hostages believed to still be held by Somali pirates to see how foolish such a move would be.
It’s time the international community came together with a coherent plan to save these men and their fellow captives. Navies and the shipping industry have managed to suppress piracy in the East African HRA to a great extent in the last few years. It would be wonderful if they could do the same for those still held hostage.