Friday, January 18, 2013

Flag State Asked for Help for Pirated Crew of RoRo Cargo Vessel

Unions Demand Panama Accept Legislated Responsibilities
Shipping News Feature

PANAMA – The International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) is calling on Panama to join the effort to help the recently released crew of the RoRo cargo vessel Iceberg 1 to recover from their hostage ordeal. The crew of the Panama-flagged ship were held for nearly three years by Somali pirates, who subjected them to torture, starvation and even mutilation, before being released last month.

The twenty two hostages, from seven nationalities (the chief officer is still missing and another seafarer committed suicide during his captivity), were helped home by the United Nations Political Office for Somalia (UNPOS) and United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (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. The unions say they are now unsurprisingly in urgent need of psychological help to address the trauma they were deliberately subjected to, and assistance with rebuilding their lives, many have ongoing 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.

“It is unfortunate that the flag state has not discharged its duty of care set out by the IMO [International Maritime Organisation] 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. 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.”

The twenty two crew members were freed during gun battles in December and included 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 and feared dead. Another hostage had his ears mutilated and all the crew were subjected to torture and starvation. The Iceberg 1 had been held since March 2010 whilst the ships owner, Azal Shipping of Dubai, had allegedly left the vessel uninsured when it was captured and the company paid no wages throughout, either to the seafarers or their families.

Photo: The look that says it all. Filipino hostage Gerald Gonzales free at last. Courtesy MPHRP.