Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Murder On The High Seas - Heavy Lift Freight Ship Crewman Murdered By Pirates

Authorities Criticised After One Dead Two Missing as they Flee Captured Vessel
Shipping News Feature

SOMALIA – GERMANY – Before our weekly overview of pirate activity comes the full story of an innocent crewman murdered whilst trying to escape his hijacked vessel. The tragedy has been unfolding since the capture of the MV Beluga Nomination, a heavy lift project carrier, on the 22nd January and has elicited the harshest criticism of the naval authorities patrolling the area from the vessels owners.

Versions of what happened differ, according to EU Navfor Atalanta, the attack occurred 390 miles north of the Seychelles, putting the nearest warship 1000 miles from the scene of the crime. This vessel was charged with an imminent mission to escort a World Food Programme vessel delivering vital humanitarian aid to Somalia, which is EU Navfor’s primary task within its mandated mission. Other warships were even more distant, patrolling the Internationally Recognized Transit Corridor, which is their secondary task within the organisations mandate.

The owners, Beluga Shipping, say the ship was seized about 800 miles north of the Seychelles after an attack by a pirate skiff. The crew consisting of a Polish master, two seamen from the Ukraine, two from Russia and seven Filipinos radioed for assistance and retired to a ‘citadel’ or safe room as recommended in the ‘Best Practice’ instructions where they stayed safe for two days waiting for assistance.

At this point there seems to have been some confusion on the part of the authorities as they issued a press release on the 25th January saying, “After 4 days of uncertainty regarding the exact status of the crew, MV Beluga Nomination is now believed to be pirated.” On the same day Beluga’s own press release railed at the fact their men were captives despite saying “the emergency call (of the 22nd) was also addressed to the European Anti-Piracy- Mission 'Atalanta', no active support was available from these forces until now. Neither appropriate frigates nor helicopters and ferret aircrafts could yet be utilised even though the military assistance is badly required.”

At this point the story takes a tragic turn, a Seychelles coast guard aircraft flew over the ship and established at least four pirates were aboard and that they had breached the citadel, captured the crew and turned the ship toward the Somali coast. A coast guard vessel followed the ship but inclement weather hampered the chase.

On the 29th January the Seychelles vessel seemingly attacked the Beluga Nomination in what proved to be an ill judged rescue attempt, in the understandable confusion it seems several of the crew attempted to escape, two were subsequently rescued from one of the ships life boats by the Danish vessel HDMS Esbern Snare, attached to the EU Atalanta force. Two more crewmen appear to be still missing and one unfortunate man was murdered by the criminals, apparently in retribution for the attack which killed one of their number.

Beluga officials are incandescent with rage, the company has considerable experience of this type of situation. In October we reported the pirating of another of their fleet, the Beluga Fortune, ironically around the same time the MT York was hijacked, the latter ship seemingly being the pirate mother ship for this latest attack as she is accompanying the Beluga Nomination toward Africa. The Beluga Fortune was rapidly freed after a British frigate appeared and the pirate crew fled. Beluga employ their own ‘Shipping Emergency Response Team’ who only discovered the facts after the murder, in a phone conversation with the ships master, the first contact they had managed to establish since the initial incident. They tell us no ransom demand has yet been received.

The German company is demanding to know why it was only a telephone call from the Danish warship that alerted them that two of their crew were safe, why they had to rely on ‘leaked’ information from a press release and were not contacted by the authorities directly and why no qualified rescue team was transferred to the Seychelles when the initial attack occurred and the men were safely ensconced in the citadel for 48 hours and in control of the vessels direction?

EU Navfor’s response has been to reiterate earlier statements that the use of a citadel by crew members does not guarantee a military response and that detailed guidance on the utilisation of citadels can be obtained from the Maritime Security Centre (Horn of Africa) MSC(HOA).

This unfortunate occurrence is bound to provoke more demands that the authorities toughen attitudes to captured pirate suspects, that ship owners employ ever more stringent security and defensive measures and likely to impact even further on the insurance rates for vessels transiting the Indian Ocean and the Gulf of Aden