Monday, October 24, 2016

Pirate Hostages Freed as Those Sent to Protect Them Still Languish in Jail

UK Prime Minister Gets Involved as Security Guards Remain Incarcerated
Shipping News Feature
SOMALIA – INDIA – UK – The sorry story of the fate of the crew of the Omani flagged fishing vessel Naham 3 finally appears to be at an end. After 1672 days in the hands of pirates the 26 remaining hostages from the vessels hijack are being repatriated, having seen 3 of their crew mates die, one during the initial attack and two more during their imprisonment. At the same time it will appear more than a little ironic to many that, whilst the fishing boat crew rightly celebrate, the men taken from the convoy protection vessel Seaman Guard Ohio by Indian authorities, still remain under arrest more than four and a half years after they were first taken.

Firstly the joyous news that the 26 men, seen in our photo courtesy of Oceans Beyond Piracy, who hail from the Philippines, Vietnam, Cambodia, China, Taiwan and Indonesia, are seemingly on their way home after their capture on 26 March 2012. These men are heroes in every sense of the word, when the MV Albedo, which was towing their captured craft began to sink, several of them dived into the sea to aid the struggling seafarers.

Over the weekend the crew left the scene of captivity in the Somali bush and were transferred to Kenya, looking a little underfed but laughing and smiling for local press. John Steed, from Oceans Beyond Piracy and lead negotiator for the Hostage Support Partnership which played a major role in freeing the men, said:

“They are currently in the safe hands of the Galmudug authorities and will be repatriated using a UN Humanitarian flight shortly and then on to their home countries. They are all malnourished [having] spent over four and a half years in deplorable conditions away from their families. I would like to thank the efforts of our Partners, the Galmudug authorities and the local community who made this release possible. In particular, the efforts of Mr Leslie Edwards of Compass Risk Management who has spent the last 18 months negotiating this release, and the work of Holman Fenwick Willan LLP, should be applauded."

Steed is also a consultant to the Global Maritime Crime Programme, an offshoot of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and he has worked together with Richard Neylon and George Lamplough of international law firm Holman Fenwick Wllian LLP who issued a joint statement saying:

"This long road started in 2005 when the first major commercial vessel was hijacked by Somali pirates. Over the past 11 years, the shipping industry and its seafarers have suffered terribly in the hands of Somali pirates. We are delighted and relieved that these last 26 seafarers, captured during the darkest days of Somali piracy, are now able to return home to their families.”

Despite widespread reports in the press these are not the last of hostages kept against their will in Somalia. Although it is believed all crew from freight based carriers are now free there is the crew of at least one fishing vessel still held, the Siraj, the captured Iranian craft seized last year. Of late crimes of this sort have been more likely to be land based with the presence of international naval groups and convoys accompanied by armed security personnel deterring the pirates

It is news of one such group to which we turn next, regular readers will be familiar with the sorry tale of the Seaman Guard Ohio, taken into custody over three years ago by the Indian authorities and her crew imprisoned. Subsequent Court appearances have left the six ex-British soldiers, together with their 27 colleagues from other nations in limbo. Now, after three years in prison or on bail, British Prime Minister Theresa May has promised to raise the plight of the men when she travels to India next month for talks with her Indian counterparts.

The Indian authorities have so far come out of this with no credit whatsoever in a case which originally began with the arrest and trial on charges including illegally entering Indian waters and carriage of undeclared firearms plus purchase of black market fuel oil. The initial charges were dismissed after evidence was produced that the men were working for a US based maritime security company, now seemingly defunct. The case was then declared illegal by Human Rights Authorities.

An appeal by Indian police meant that the case continued to drag on. In January of this year the ten ship’s crew and 35 security personnel were convicted of gun running by the Tuticorin District Principal Sessions Court and sentenced to five years in prison and fines of Rs 3,000 each. Now news of the involvement of the PM has sparked renewed hope for the families of the men. On an appeal website set up to gather support campaigners Yvonne Machugh, partner of one of the men, said:

“Theresa May has the opportunity to right a wrong, and ensure that the Indian government understand fully that that they are imprisoning innocent men. I personally feel this visit is of huge importance and can bring home fresh hope for both the men and their families.”

Full details of both these cases can be read by entering the name of either vessel involved into the News Search box at the head of the page.