There was extra reason to celebrate in the homes of some members of the maritime community this festive season, after a number of seafarers who have been held hostage by Somali pirates for more than 1000 days were released and returned home.
Although the men, who were captured and held hostage after their vessel was attacked by Somali pirates nearly three years ago, are relieved to be going home, the traumatic experiences that they struggled through will remain with them for the rest of their lives. In addition, questions are being raised as to why it took so long for the men to be rescued, and why there was not more media coverage of the situation which may have assisted in bringing the captives home sooner.
22 crew members on board the Iceberg 1 vessel were captured by the Somali pirates off the coast of Yemen in March 2010, and have remained in captivity ever since. Allegedly the owner of the ship, who is based in Dubai, was not insured and refused to pay the ransom money that the pirates demanded, despite pleas from the family members of the hostages.
The sailors on board the ship were from a number of different countries, including India, Yemen, Ghana, Sudan, Pakistan and the Phillippines. The governments of these countries appeared to be unwilling to make an attempt to rescue the hostages, possibly due to fear of violent retaliation from the pirates. Even international anti-piracy organizations were reluctant to get involved in the case, preferring to settle piracy issues by ransom to reduce the risk of casualties. The end result was the longest case of pirate hijacking in modern times.
The hostages had to endure terrible living conditions on the boat, with many suffering from the confinement and shortages of food and drinking water. Two crew members committed suicide by jumping overboard.
Finally, after almost three years in captivity, Somalia’s own anti-piracy patrol troops have conducted an armed raid on the Iceberg 1, resulting in the safe release of the 22 surviving crew members on the 23rd of December, 2012.
The chairman of the Maritime Piracy Humanitarian Response Programme (MPHRP), Peter Swift, has expressed relief and happiness on the safe return of the hostages, and extended his gratitude to all those who were involved in the rescue. Swift also sent his thoughts and condolences to the family members of the two crew members who died during their captivity.