The ITF (International Transport Workers’ Federation) is calling on Panama to join the effort to help the recently released crew of the Iceberg 1 to recover from their hostage ordeal. The crew of the Panama-flagged vessel were held for nearly three years by Somali pirates – who subjected them to torture, starvation and even mutilation – before being released last month.
The 22 hostages, from seven nationalities (the chief officer is still missing and another seafarer committed suicide during his captivity), were helped home by the UNPOS and UNODC* Hostage Support Programme, with support from, among others, Interpol, the Maritime Piracy Humanitarian Response Programme (MPHRP), the seafarers’ consulates (two countries sent aircraft to pick up their nationals) and the ITF. They are now in urgent need of psychological help to address the trauma they were deliberately subjected to, and assistance with rebuilding their lives. Many have medical problems and are looking for help.
The MPHRP is assessing the help that the seafarers need, and will then arrive at an estimate of how much it will cost.
ITF seafarers’ section chair Dave Heindel explained: “There is a good understanding across the shipping industry of just how much these seafarers and their families have suffered over the last three years, and it’s no surprise that some people in the industry have offered financial support. However, we’d particularly like the flag state, which in this case is Panama, to join them and us in sponsoring this relief effort.”
He continued: “It is unfortunate that the flag state has not discharged its duty of care set out by the IMO** to these seafarers during their captivity, even though they were serving on a vessel flying its flag. There is now an opportunity for it to contribute to their support and rehabilitation.”
He concluded: “The cruel and barbaric treatment meted out to these mariners must serve as a constant reminder of why pirates have to be fought, pursued and prosecuted.”
Twenty-two crew members were freed during gun battles in December: eight Yemenis, five Indians, four Ghanaians, two Pakistanis, two Sudanese and one Filipino. One seafarer, Wagdi Akdram, a Yemeni, was driven to suicide by his ordeal. The fate of the Indian chief officer, Dhiraj Tiwari, is unknown. He is known to have been tortured and separated from the other crew. Another hostage had his ears mutilated. All the crew were subjected to torture and starvation. The Iceberg 1 had been held since March 2010. The shipowner, Azal Shipping of Dubai, had left the vessel uninsured when it was captured. The company paid no wages throughout either to the seafarers or their families.
* UNPOS: United Nations Political Office for Somalia. UNDOC: United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.
**The IMO Interim Guidelines for Flag States can be seen here. They recommend the following:
4.1 A State's counter-piracy policy should contain measures regarding the eventuality that a ship entitled to fly its flag is captured, and to ensure that, as far as possible, the humanitarian needs of the crew and families are addressed during the period of captivity and after release. In particular, it should ensure that:
.1 shipowners operating ships entitled to fly its flag are aware of and implement the guidance contained in MSC.1/Circ.1390, Guidance for company security officers (CSOs) – Preparation of a Company and crew for the contingency of hijack by pirates in the Western Indian Ocean and the Gulf of Aden;
.2 the shipowner or operator of a ship captured by pirates keeps the families of hijacked seafarers informed of relevant developments; and
.3 shipowners look after the welfare of captured seafarers and their families.
4.2 The Administration should establish, as necessary, plans and procedures to assist owners, managers and operators of ships entitled to fly its flag in the speedy resolution of hijacking cases occurring in the waters off the coast of Somalia, including the Gulf of Aden and the western Indian Ocean.