The kidnapped crew of a UAE-owned ship hijacked by Somali pirates is pleading for humanitarian intervention as negotiations for their release enter a fifth month.
While none faces serious health problems, the 24 sailors are short of food and water, according to Ecoterra International, a Kenya-based non-governmental organisation that monitors piracy. They are also running out of diesel to power the generators aboard the MV Iceberg I, which belongs to the Azal Shipping company based in Dubai.
The vessel, which was carrying generators, transformers and empty fuel tanks, is anchored off the coast of Somalia and guarded by 50 pirates.
The crew members are from Yemen, India, Ghana, Sudan, Pakistan and the Philippines.
Ecoterra has urged local elders to ensure that the captors treat the crew well. It has also asked the diplomatic missions of the crew members to help the ship owner to secure their release soon.
Pirates seized the ship last March in the Gulf of Aden and repainted its name as the Sea Express. In May, the US navy destroyer McFaul sighted the vessel and followed it for 36 hours to the coast of Somalia before returning to normal duties.
“Once the ship is pirated, it’s up to the pirates, the shipping company, negotiators and the flag state to work out a deal,” said Lt John Fage, a spokesman for the US Fifth Fleet based in Bahrain.
Lt Fage added: “We don’t ever get involved in the negotiations process.”
Azal Shipping declined to comment on the status of negotiations.
Some stand-offs between shipping companies and pirates last for months. Somali pirates already control nearly two dozen foreign vessels and 400 seafarers – including an elderly British couple abducted on their yacht last October. A quarter of pirate attacks this year have taken place in the Red Sea or Gulf of Aden, said the UN International Maritime Organisation (IMO) in its latest bulletin, citing the piracy-monitoring newspaper Lloyd’s List.
The Gulf of Aden is a strategic lane and an important waterway for international shipping. About 22,000 vessels pass through the waters each year carrying about eight per cent of world trade. Thirty navies have sent warships to the area in an attempt to prevent pirate attacks, which have risen in recent years.
However, the number of hijackings worldwide has begun to ease, according to the IMO.
The first half of this year saw 196 attacks, down from 240 in the same period last year.