33 months of torment and torture finally came to an end for the seafarers of the ill-fated M. V. Iceberg 1, hijacked by Somalian pirates on March 29, 2010
‘Man’s greatest enemy is man’. This old adage was amply proved in the torture meted out to Abdul Razak, Ali Mohammed Khan and others. Torture is one of the worst forms of hostility that can be brought to bear on helpless victims. 75 year old Yemeni, Abdul Razak was hung upside down for almost a whole day and flogged. This was followed by the predators taking hold of Ali Mohammed Khan, binding his hands and feet and slowly sawing off his ears while he screamed for mercy. Thereafter, the adversaries subjected all 24 of the group to remain without food, water and sleep for three days.
These are not entries in the torture diary in concentration camps like Auschwitz, but this was the beginning of the ordeal around three years back for the 24 crew members who manned the cargo vessel M. V. Iceberg 1, hijacked by Somalian pirates on March 29, 2010 about 10 nautical miles off the port of Aden, Yemen, outside the International Recommended Transit Corridor (IRTC). Five of the six Indians on board the ship were freed after 33 months by Puntland Maritime forces on 23 December 2012. After landing in Mumbai they interacted yesterday with officials and the press.
The 75 year old Abdul Razak was the captain of the ill-fated ship and Ali Mohammed Khan was the chief engineer. The vessel belonged to Azal Shipping & Cargo, a Dubai based company and owned by Yazir Mohammed of Yemen. The five rescued Indian seamen are Ganesh Mohite (26), Swapnil Jadhav (25), Santosh Kumar Yadav (28), Jaswinder Singh (28), Saji Kumar (20). The sixth Indian on board was the chief officer who is reported missing. When the Puntland forces attacked the ship they killed three of the pirates and took three prisoners thus releasing 22 of the ship’s crew. The remaining pirates, whose number could not be ascertained, managed to escape.
According to Jaswinder Singh the brutality worsened when negotiations broke down as the shipowner refused to negotiate on the $ 10 million ransom demanded. The pirates in an endeavor to move the ship to a safer place compelled it to be piloted at full speed in rough weather over working the engines. As a result the engine room caught fire and later the ship grounded. According to the seafarers the ship owner was willing to pay only $ 100,000.
The agitated pirates in desperation tried all kinds of pressure tactics over the period of nearly three years. The hostages were kept in appalling conditions and subjected to physical and psychological abuse. They were made to call up concerned governments, the embassies, the shipping company and the families in order to compel them to pay the ransom demanded.
“We had never prayed as much we did during those days in captivity,” said Swapnil Jadhav. “It was only the hope of seeing our families some day that kept us going on. We kept cheering each other as much as we could to keep our hopes and expectation alive. Our families had been doing their best approaching various authorities and NGOs to intervene and seek our release. We made several plans to escape and swim for shore but were afraid that if we failed we would certainly get shot.”
Not making much headway the pirates informed the captives of their plans to remove their kidneys, liver, heart and other organs for sale. For one of the seamen it was the last straw. He went insane and committed suicide by jumping overboard.
The end to their captivity came after the Puntland Maritime forces attacked the pirates. It took them 12 days to overwhelm the pirates and finally release all the seafarers.
Maritime Piracy Humanitarian Response Program, (MPHRP) a pan industry alliance, has been actively involved in helping to maintain regular contacts with the family members of the hijacked crew and providing moral support to them and applying to charities to get financial support to the crew and their families, including medicals, counseling and other financial needs. MPHRP in India with the assistance of its partners has offered its support for the medical and psychological treatment to all the Indian crew of M. V. Iceberg 1.
It is heartening to note that all the five Indian seafarers have expressed their desire to go back to sea after a break of six months. While interacting with officials of the Director General of Shipping, Ministry of Shipping, Government of India they have been given assurances of being provided employment on Indian ships whenever they are ready to sail again.