For Shipping companies and management companies operating in India
On January 12, the release of a chemical tanker ‘Fairchem Bogey’ by Somali pirates after five months in captivity has brought cheers to Indian shipping. The ship, which was seized on August 20, while on anchorage within the Salalah port limit in Oman and waiting for berthing instructions from port authorities, had an Indian crew of 21 on board.
As per local reports, pirates released the ship for a ransom estimated at $8 million (around Rs 40 crore). The ransom, as per industry estimates, may be on a higher side, given that the tanker is carrying just a partial load of methanol. But it was a small price they paid for releasing 21 Indians on board.
Another ship ‘Savina Caylyn’, with 17 Indian crew, hijacked on February 8, 2011, was released on December 22. All crew members have now arrived in India.
With the release of these two ships, total number of Indian crew in custody of Somali pirates on different ships has come down by more than half to 22, from the earlier 60. As per a recent communiqué by India’s shipping regulator — director general of shipping, six Indians are still on board Panama-flagged Iceberg-I (hijacked on March 29, 2010), two on board Malaysia-flagged Al Bedo (hijacked on November 26, 2010) and seven people on Italy-flagged Enrico Levoli (December 27,2011). In addition, seven Indian seafarers of ‘Asphalt Venture’ are held hostage on land.
For the ships mentioned above, we do not have any update of the ongoing negotiations with pirates. In some instances at least, owners and ship management companies have washed off their hands, and stayed away from negotiations.
While families of Indian crew keep their hopes alive, endlessly waiting for their near ones, most of them in captivity undergo the toughest moments in their life, without regular supply of food and water. For seafarers, who escape from the captivity at the end of months-long negotiations over ransom, it is a second life. And most of them vow not to go back to the sea.
Once attacked by pirates, there are not too many escape routes. On January 10, a bulk carrier flying Norwegian flag ‘Spar Rigel’, with 20 Indian and 1 Ukranian crew, was hijacked off the Nigerian coast by pirates. Local goons, carrying most modern guns and deadly grenades, entered the ship. The crew locked themselves into the citadel (safe house) on board, and alerted the naval forces, and managed to thwart the hijack. But this is a rare episode.
Despite Indian navy’s regular patrolling in Gulf of Aden, and foiling several attacks by pirates, the area continues to be under constant threat. Pirates have continued to make life miserable for shipping as well as bilateral trade through sea between countries.
As a preventive measure, the shipping ministry has issued guidelines allowing ships with Indian crew to deploy armed guards in a bid to combat piracy. As per the new guidelines, ship owners are allowed to engage private maritime security companies (PMSC) through a proper selection procedure. The pirates generally don’t attack ships deploying armed security guards, and close to 50 per cent of the ships transiting in these waters now have armed guards on board.
India, world’s leading supplier of manpower on ships, needs to resolve the ongoing hostage crisis, if it wants to retain the title, amidst tough competition from countries like Philippines, Ukraine and China, and save the dollar salaries.
The director general of shipping should intervene in each piracy attack and should join party to the negotiations with pirates, and speed up the ship’s release, and not let it to the mercy of ship owners. Shipping companies and management companies operating in India should come up with a seafarer fund to finance release of ships and crew-members held in captivity for months together.
Source: My DigitalFC