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MARITIME PIRACY | A tale of two seafarers

From Tradewinds, 2012.05.12

Two Indian crew have revealed gripping details of their four-month ordeal on board the Italian tanker hijacked off Somalia in December and freed last month.

The 16,600-dwt Marnavi-owned Enrico Ievoli (built 1999) was carrying 15,000 tons of caustic soda and 18 crew from Iran to Turkey when it was seized by gunmen.

The seven Indian crew members landed back home in Mumbai on Tuesday.

Roopendran Parrakat, 51, told the AP news agency he had been watching an unidentified boat since he had come on duty shortly before 6am on 27 December.

He and two other crew took turns peering through binoculars at the vessel, which showed up on the Enrica Ievoli’s radar as an ominous blip moving far too fast toward their ship.

“Normally, you get GPS data,” Parrakat said. “This vessel had no details, no name, nothing.”

Forty minutes later the captain sounded the alarm, jolting Shantilal Harji Solanki awake.

“I had a feeling pirates were around,” said Solanki, 52, who worked as a mechanic on the ship.

He stashed his gold prayer beads in an air conditioning duct before heading up to the ship’s bridge, the designated meeting point in case of emergency.

A skiff had set out from the pirate’s mother ship. The crew watched from the bridge as four men in shorts and T-shirts hoisted a ladder and climbed on board. Two carried AK-47s.

They fired shots in the air and called themselves pirates. They said they were from Somalia.

The men came up to the bridge and trained their guns on the captain. “They said this boat is hijacked,” recalled Solanki. One of the gunmen was shaking. Another man was bleeding, cut on the hand and shoulder by the barbed wire the crew had wrapped around the ship to stave off pirates before entering the dangerous waters.

Five more Somalis soon climbed on board. The youngest was 14, the oldest in his fifties.

“The leader told us we are hijacking this vessel for money,” said Parrakat. “We need this money for our country. We are doing this for our country.”

A helicopter flown in by the Turkish navy in response to the captain’s distress call arrived 20 minutes too late.

The crew were held the crew on the bridge. Half got mattresses, the rest slept on blankets. They had to ask permission to go to the bathroom or take a shower. Pirates always escorted them, one man at a time. Photographs were forbidden.

The pirates led the crew — seven Indians, six Italians and five Ukrainians — one by one to their cabins and took anything that could be sold.

They stole Solanki’s two laptop computers, one of which he’d just bought for his daughter, two cellphones, his watch, his leather shoes and all his money.

After a few days, the ship reached Somali waters and the men were allowed to call home.

Solanki called his wife in Diu, an island north of Mumbai, India’s financial capital. “I told my wife, ‘I am hijacked. Don’t worry, we are OK,'” he recalled.

His two daughters were sobbing too hard to speak clearly. “Papa come soon,” they said.

The crew did not become friends with their captors over the long months of captivity. They barely learned each other’s names. The pirates slept separately and ate their own meals. The Somalis brought sheep on board, slaughtering one each day for food.

The crew played cards, mostly gin rummy, to fill the empty hours. Some prayed.

No one thought of escape. “Everyone was afraid for his life,” said Parrakat.

“I can’t be faster than a bullet,” said Solanki.

Once the ship reached Somali waters, Maya’s group handed the vessel over to anther crew of pirates led by a man named Loyan.

Twice Enrica Ievoli was pressed into pirate service.

In January, the ship sailed two and a half days to rescue nine pirates from a failed hijacking.

Five of the nine were injured and one had been shot dead by the US navy, said Solanki. The pirates put the dead body in the freezer and sailed back to Somalia.

In March, Loyan ordered the ship to chase a hijacked Spanish vessel whose captain was not following pirate orders. They never found the ship.

On 22 April, more than 30 pirates, all armed, were aboard the Enrica Ievoli. They wrapped their faces in cloths, hiding everything but their eyes. They lined the crew up on the deck so they could be seen, alive, from a small white plane that approached in the afternoon.

The pirates kept their guns pointed at the backs of the crew as the plane circled above and then dropped three plastic containers, each fitted with a small parachute, into the sea.

The pirates scurried off the boat to collect their treasure.

Then a new kind of fear settled on the crew.

“Until that day, they had reason to keep us alive,” Parrakat said. “After they got what they wanted, they can do anything.” He stayed awake the whole night, listening as the pirates left the ship in small groups.

Around 5am, the last few pirates fired three farewell shots in the air.

“It was like coming out of jail,” Parrakat said, a big smile spreading on his face.

The captain called an Italian navy ship patrolling nearby. A helicopter circled as six Italian commandoes boarded the Enrica Ievoli and scoured the ship for any trace of pirates.

“When the Italian commandoes came, we felt OK, fine, we are going home,” Solanki said. He took his prayer beads out of the air conditioning duct.

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Piracy at sea and the commerce behind it (Part 1)

The long term solution to piracy lies in the world reverting to ships flying with the flag of their own nationality, not flags of convenience 

Veeresh Malik

Maritime piracy has resumed in full force after a lull. And it mainly affects the Indian seafarer in captivity. One reason for this is the standoff between Indian government and pirates on the issue of some Somalians in Indian custody. The Somalians demand that their colleagues be released, while the law in India will take its own course. This has left Indian seafarers to rot in terrible conditions. The Kenyan invasion of South Somalia, ignored in the Indian media despite the ancient ties with the Horn of Africa, has just increased the risks. The Indian seafarers are likely to, once again, become pawns in the conflict.


From torture and beatings to starvation, as well as being denied access to any form of interaction with the authorities, Indian seafarers are in a miserable condition. They will risk their lives due to economic compulsions, and more, on voyages in waters, where Indians have traditionally sailed. Whether by conventional “dhows”, or on modern ocean liners, they are the new targets, and the pirates roam from the Horn of Africa to the furthest reaches of the Southern Indian Ocean. With attacks from submarines and drones now making no difference between friend and foe, stuck on ships, retaliation is expected. Western forces seek a higher involvement of the Indian Navy.
 
Matters have reached a point where the demanded ransom “rates” for Indians in Somalian captivity is the same demanded from Europeans. In some cases, release is denied outright. In addition, the previous rule of “no bloodshed” is now being openly flouted, as is evident from the killing of two European tourists and kidnapping of others from the Swahili resorts in Northern Kenya near Somalia. Near death-type of torture is also being reported.
 
The Indian crew left behind from the ASPHALT VENTURE have still not returned, despite ransom being paid. In the case of another European owned ship with Indian seafarers onboard, the ransom amount, after almost being settled, has gone up to three times what it was a few weeks ago. This is because the insurance company of the owner refuses to come to the table anymore – having lost interest in the ship and cargo. The attack on what is called “Jubaland”, at the Southern end of Somalia, by multi-national forces, is one reason.
 
In the midst of all this, the Indian government and private ship-management agencies have clamped down on all information. Even the families of those affected are kept in the dark. A possible reason for this could be that the real ship-owner, who is often hidden behind the forwarding address of a tax-haven seldom comes forward to help. This is because his K&R (Kidnap and Ransom) Insurance and other covers are adequate to pay for the vessel and cargo. Therefore, losing the asset is certainly profitable for the actual ship owner in a recessionary market. Consequently, the whole of the Indian Ocean has been declared a War Zone.
 
Brutally explained, companies find it more profitable to collect insurance on a hijacked ship. Humans on board are often seen as cheap collateral damage from the third world countries. The ship owner, or the charterer, frankly stands to gain if the hijacked ship just sinks quietly with all people on board. Therefore, only media coverage and bad publicity are a worry; hence families are asked to keep quiet by threatening to deny them their dues. They even keep the regulatory authorities, in this case the Directorate General of Shipping, quiet or as make them an accomplice.
 
This is why, at a workshop on piracy in the Indian Ocean, one had the amazing experience of seeing on stage a combination of NATO, British Royal Navy, EU Forces representative, Ship owners and an International Union Representative. With the Indian Government and the Indian Navy in the audience, the point that our friends from the countries, which control international shipping legislation globally were making, sounded like this:
 
1) The older pirates, of Captain Blackbeard and Johnny Depp variety, were romantic creatures. Switch to slide of good-looking lady-killer type smiling white guy from Pirates of the Caribbean with sword.

2) The modern-day Indian Ocean pirates, of African variety, are terrible terrorist creatures. Switch to slide of scarred big black guy, with huge teeth grimacing, while wearing Islamic head-dress with AK-47.

3) The true pirates, wearing fine bespoke suits in global banking centres, were simply business executives. This person did not get a slide, and chose to be hidden behind global free trade anonymity armed with impeccable Queen’s English.
 
Leading from this, we were told that it is very important for Indians to persuade the Indian Navy to provide more security to all vessels in the area, while keeping the European Navy free. This led to surprised grins from some Indians present at the workshop for following reasons:
 
1) If the Indian Navy did not step out and guard the Indian Ocean, then supermarket shelves in Europe would not be able to carry the same discounted prices (as generations of people who did not really work hard for a living had got used to).

2) The European powers are busy with Libya, and maybe Syria, Iran or others would need their ships for those theatrics, or maybe even an un-announced invasion of Somalia by the Kenyans.

3) Most of all, it costs a lot of money to keep the European and NATO naval ships working in the Indian Ocean even when the dirty work below the deck was done by cheap labour from third world countries.

(Note – it is not only “flag of convenience” merchant ships that employ cheap seafarers to work in subhuman conditions. This practice is now followed by warships from developed countries also.)

Source: http://maritimesecurity.asia/free-2/piracy-2/piracy-at-sea-and-the-commerce-behind-it-–part-1/

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Modern piracy: bloodless no more

Rose George writes about the escalation of pirate violence in the Indian Ocean and the possible consequences of the UK’s decision to allow armed private guards on board British-flagged ships.

Read more at http://m.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2011/oct/30/piracy-no-longer-bloodless?cat=commentisfree&type=article,

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SHIPPING | Vietnamese Sailors Are Home After Ransom Paid to Pirates

Twenty-four Vietnamese sailors are safe at home after an eight-month ordeal as prisoners of Somali pirates.

Officials and analysts said the cargo ship MV Hoang Son Sun and its crew were released last week after a Vietnamese state-owned shipping company paid the pirates a ransom of more than $2 million. The sailors were flown home to Hanoi and arrived on Friday.

Various shipping sources said the ship’s owners paid a ransom in the millions of dollars to secure the release of the Mongolian-flagged ship, which was seized by pirates in January. The French news agency Monday quoted the company’s deputy general director saying the ransom was $2.6 million. The ship is believed to be headed for a port in Oman.

Somali-based pirates have seized dozens of ships in the Indian Ocean, demanding ransoms reported to range as high as $5 million. Ship owners are generally reluctant to discuss details of the ransoms for fear of encouraging more hijackings.

Source: http://blogs.voanews.com/breaking-news/2011/09/26/vietnamese-sailors-are-home-after-ransom-paid-to-pirates/

Money ahead of people: this is one point on which piracy and the maritime industry often converge.

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West Africa: another target for piracy?

24 September 2011 – Amid rising concerns about pirates taking control of the waters off West Africa, Yury Fedotov, Executive Director of UNODC, met Nassirou Bakou Arifari, Minister for Foreign Affairs from Benin , on the margins of the annual session of the General Assembly in New York.

“These are worrying developments that we should take seriously” Mr. Fedotov told Mr. Arifari.  Benin, in particular, is seeing more piracy off its coastline, which may have implications for its national development and stability.

With massive reserves of oil, cocoa and metals needed to supply hungry world markets, the Gulf of Guinea – a stretch of West Africa’s coast spanning more than a dozen countries – is witnessing early signs that pirates may be keen to pounce on new and lucrative opportunities.  Piracy, drug smuggling and political uncertainty have made the Gulf of Guinea a challenging environment for investors seeking to benefit from natural resources.

UNODC, the UN mission in West Africa (UNOWA) and the International Maritime Organization are therefore setting up a mission to assess Benin’s capacity to combat piracy. They will lend international support in the framework of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) regional action plan to combat drug trafficking and organized crime in West Africa, as well as the UNODC Regional Programme 2010-2014.

Piracy in the Gulf of Guinea is not on the scale of that off East Africa, but more attacks in a region ill-equipped to counter the threat could disrupt shipping and investment. Indeed, the Security Council has already expressed concern over the increase in piracy, maritime armed robbery and reports of hostage-taking in the Gulf of Guinea and its damaging impact on security, trade and economic activities in the sub-region.

In recent years, West Africa has emerged as a hub for cocaine trafficking between Latin America and Europe and the issue is firmly on the agenda of the international community.  The Office will assist Benin to formulate a national integrated programme against illicit drugs and organized crime.

“My Office stands ready to assist Benin and the sub-region in the framework of the UNODC Regional Programme in which Benin is actively participating,” said the Executive Director.

Source:  http://www.unodc.org/unodc/en/frontpage/2011/September/west-africa-another-target-for-piracy.html

I hope the fight against piracy in East African waters taught some lessons to the international community — and that those lessons are put to good use in West Africa ASAP.

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ARABIAN SEA | Piracy threatens regional economy

Piracy is threatening the UAE’s coastal economy as attacks are being staged following a brazen and successful ship hijacking outside Salalah Port in Oman.

The Fairchem Bogey, managed by Anglo-Eastern Ship Management, based in Mumbai, was seized on Saturday as it was awaiting berthing instructions. All 21 Indian sailors on board were taken hostage.

Tim Stear, the global head of maritime security for control risks based in Dubai, said attacks off the coast of Oman could endanger the gulf maritime industry, which includes cruise ships, superyachts and marine transportation.

“A year ago there was a view that you could sail into the Arabian Gulf without having to encounter problems if you were coming from the Maldives, for example,” he said. “But it has all brought it home now that this is not an ‘off the coast of Somalia’ problem. This is also an Arabian Sea problem.”

The attack on a ship so close to the Omani coast and in the Sultanate’s coastal waters is one of the most audacious raids on a maritime vessel and a sign that hijackers are becoming more daring, even as intergovernmental task forces have deployed navies to protect the vital shipping corridor off the Somali coast.

“Whether it is off the coast of Oman or somewhere else, we are appalled at this terrible situation,” said Keith Nuttall, the group commercial manager of Gulftainer, the Sharjah ports operator, who noted that there were currently hundreds of seafarers in Somalia on captured ships. “I know it is a complex issue, and that many navies of the world are working on combating this, but it is still a depressing state of affairs.”

The scourge of piracy has huge potential to disrupt the region’s maritime industry. The Gulf is a crucial body of water for the transportation of the region’s oil wealth, with nearly 40 per cent of the world’s traded oil supply passing through the Strait of Hormuz.

In addition, the region has a growing cruise line industry and has stated its ambitions to be a global destination for sailing competitions. Ras Al Khaimah narrowly missed out on becoming the location for the America’s Cup race last year because of a legal dispute between the two competitors, but it was piracy that was behind the decision last week to abandon plans for the Volvo Ocean Race to sail directly to the Gulf from South Africa.

Boats will sail from Cape Town to an undisclosed port before being transported closer to the finish in Abu Dhabi. In the next stage of the global race, the boats will sail from Abu Dhabi over the New Year and will then be transported to another undisclosed location before continuing on to the stage finish in China.

“We have consulted leading naval and commercial intelligence experts and their advice could not have been clearer: ‘Do not risk it’,” said Knut Frostad, the chief executive of the Volvo Ocean Race.

Veesham Shipping, based in Dubai, which owns oil tankers and ships that transports cars and trucks, has fallen victim to several hijackings over the years, including an attack from Somali pirates as well as a more recent incident off the coast of Nigeria. Much of its work focuses on Africa, including carrying humanitarian goods to the more secure southern area of Somalia. The attacks and the persistent threat of more incidents has caused a great deal of personal anguish for Ajay Kumar Bhatia, the owner of Veesham. “We always sleep in fear when we put vessels in that area,” he said.

The financial implications are just as worrying. Insurance companies often require companies such as Veesham to hire security guards on board. A journey to Africa could cost more than US$80,000 (Dh293,836) in insurance and security costs alone, Mr Bhatia said.

Source: http://www.thenational.ae/thenationalconversation/industry-insights/economics/piracy-threatens-coastal-economy

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PIRACY | Germany wants armed guards on Europe ships: official

LONDON (Reuters) – Germany plans to lobby other European Union countries to allow the deployment of private armed guards on their merchant ships in high-risk areas as a piracy crisis escalates, ministry officials said.

But analysts said the initiative was likely to face legal and practical difficulties.

Somali piracy is costing the world economy billions of dollars a year, and international navies are stretched to combat the menace in the Indian Ocean due to the vast distances involved. In desperation, more shipping companies are considering deploying private armed guards on their vessels.

The German government is looking into changing the country’s weapons laws to allow security personnel to bear firearms on ships in high-risk areas. It could also certify those private security companies that could be used on merchant vessels, a government official said.

“Our goal is to develop a coordinated approach to be presented at the International Maritime Organization (IMO) meeting in September, and EU governments are the main partners to bring on board,” said Jan Gerd Becker-Schwering with the German economy ministry. “To go this alone would not be beneficial.”

The European Union said allowing private armed guards on merchant vessels was a decision to be made on a national level, adding that ships should have best management practices (BMP) in place, including measures to prevent pirates from getting on board and to protect crew members.

“The implementation and execution of these BMPs, however, is the responsibility of the ship owners,” an EU spokesman said. “These private security contractors operate under the law of the flag state.”

Separately the IMO said such a move was up to national governments but warned of a potential escalation in violence.

“IMO does not endorse the use of privately contracted armed security personnel on board ships … and operators should take into account the possible escalation of violence,” the U.N.’s maritime agency said.

POTENTIAL SETBACKS

J. Peter Pham, with the Atlantic Council think tank, said the German plan could encounter legal setbacks, both domestically and abroad.

“Despite the apparent reasonableness of the German proposal, it will face several hurdles,” Pham said. “It needs to pass both houses of the German parliament, where there will be opposition from the left, which tends to look askance on mercenaries.”

Pham said it could prove difficult to convince foreign port authorities to allow armed groups into harbours.

“Even if Chancellor (Angela) Merkel’s government gets the necessary laws enacted, it will be an uphill battle to convince the authorities in ports to allow the security teams in, much less to get other countries, especially in Europe, to follow.”

International Chamber of Shipping Secretary General Peter Hinchliffe said the German plan was helpful in setting a precedent for approving armed guards in flags where they were not currently allowed.

“But it must not create a mechanism for governments to abrogate their responsibility under UNCLOS to protect trade routes,” he said, referring to an international convention that tasks nation states with tackling piracy on the high seas.

German ship owners’ association VDR said private armed guards were a “second-best solution” to deploying police or military forces. The German government has ruled this out.

“Using sovereign forces would not pose financial and capacity problems, and we could only use them on ships that sail under the German flag,” Becker-Schwering said.

Ships are often registered under other flags than that of the ship’s owner in order to avoid taxes and regulations of the owner’s country.

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