Ship-Hijacking: Industry’s Action And Reaction

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On September 15th, “MV Stolt Valor”, a chemical tanker bound for Mumbai from Suez was hijacked by 15 Somali pirates in the Gulf of Aden. Shipping industry is well aware of the incident. Among 22 crews onboard MV Stolt Valor, 18 crews are Indians, two are Filipinos, one is Bangladeshi and one hails from Russia. Although, all hostages are reportedly unhurt and safe, according to the DGS press release on Sep 16th; family members of all 18 Indian crews are still traumatised and anxious about the release of their dear ones.

According to an industry source, the hijackers have demanded a ransom of USD 2.5 million and negotiations between hijackers and owners of the ship is going on. A press release issued on Sep 18th by the owners, confirmed an appointment of a professional negotiator by the Stolt’s owners to talk with the hijackers to ensure the life and safety of their crew members and to make them home as soon as possible.
In a recent move on Oct 7th, the family members of the 18 crews participated in a march headed to the office of Directorate General of shipping to appeal for an urgent action for their release. Ms Seema Goyal, wife of the Stolt Master Capt. Prabhat Goyal took the heroic step not only to put forward the Stolt issue to DGS, but also taken the battle to the Central Government also.

In Mumbai protest march, family members of MV Stolt Valor crews were accompanied by the organizer of the march Indian seafarer’s federation (ISF), including NUSI & MUI. Meanwhile, members of the Indian Maritime fraternity accompanying the family members carried out a nationwide protest march against the Govt. in support of a quick resolution and get back the crews at home in various places such as Chennai, Diu, Kochi, Port Blair, Raigad, Tuticorin, Visakhapatnam, Nhava, Valsad, Kolkata and Lakshadweep.
Empathizing Ms. Goyal and family members of the 18 Indian crews, Mr. Venkatarammana, Dy general of DGS said that he would convey the message from the families to the central and would request the Govt. to alleviate the tense situation as early as possible.  Reacting on the issue during the World Maritime Day celebration, Mr. APVN Sharma, Secretary of shipping emphasized on finding a long term solution. Replying to the anguish cries of the crew’s family members Mr. Sharma said that let us give some time for negotiations and he assured the family members of conveying their message to Govt.

After all those protests and anguish hues and cries, crews of MV Stolt Valor are still confined by the pirates and families are not seeing any ray of hope on government statement and activities. Govt. of India is keeping a strange silence which is unusual from their part. In a recent news updates on 14th Oct, it comes to know that Somali pirates issued a deadline of 48 hours to pay the ransom, otherwise they will kill all the crews.
Unfortunately, MV Stolt Valor was not the last case of sea-hijacking off Somalia coast. After MV Stolt Valor, Somali pirates have hijacked another Greek ship ‘Centauri’ and a Hong Kong flagged Great Creation. Including these two, Somali pirates had hijacked 14 vessels off Somalia coast since July 20, ’08.  As an International output of the piracy issue, EU revealed its plan to ramp up naval operations in the Gulf of Aden. Responding to issue, Noel Choong of the IMB (International Maritime Bureau) said to Associated Press that “Pirates are beginning to attack now on the eastern coast of Somalia. We advise ships to stay at least 250 miles from the coast and even then, they must maintain a strict watch.”

Keeping a watch on the MV Stolt issue and Government of India’s move on it, Indian mariners, serving as one of the bests community, is losing their faith on the industry. Mariners have pointed the ship owners for fueling the issue of piracy by giving ransom to the pirates. The Indian Mariners community, now, is asking the Industry for a permanent strategy and solution to tackle the issue of piracy so that they can serve this Industry without any hesitation and fear. Meanwhile, Industry experts showing fear that this piracy issue could be a major roadblock to attract Y-Gen towards this career, as the new Y-Gen is already lacking interest for this wonderful career of seafaring.

Latest Updates

15th Oct, ‘08
The Indian government has finally allowed the Indian Navy to patrol the Somali waters to ensure that the safety of Indian sailors is not compromised. In a statement issued on 14th October, the government said,” Neighbouring  powers and international agencies are working with India to free the sailors.” Even as the Indian government is mulling over options, Russia has already gone for the kill. Russia has dispatched its deadly intrepid class frigates to the Somalian waters in a bid to free sailors taken hostage by Somalian pirates. (Courtesy: Timesnow)
17th Oct
The Indian seafarers’ federation (ISF) also threatened the government to stage a ban on Indian seafarers sailing through the Gulf of Aden, unless the Stolt Valor is released by Somali pirates by next Tuesday (21st October, ‘08).
19th Oct
Meanwhile, as a protest against the government for their delay to sort out the MV Stolt Valor matter, the National Union of Seafarers (NUSI) and Maritime Union of India (MUI) have decided to boycott a meeting with A.P.V.N Sharma , secretary of Ministry of shipping today (20th October). Earlier this week, External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee assured Ms. Seema Goyal and other family members of the crews of hijacked the of ship safe rescue of people on the ship. According to a naval officer, the Navy has already re-deployed a warship to the Gulf of Aden.
21st Oct
Showing their ire on government’s inaction to releasing the crews of MV Stolt Valor, seafarers aboard all 470 Indian merchant ships have refused to sail. From yesterday (20th Oct) ships including A B Tarpore, Desh Rakshak and Punita have been docked at Mumbai port. More ships are expecting to join the agitation soon. Abdulgani Serang, general secretary of NUSI confirmed the agitation saying that at least 80 ships will be held back if there is a delay in releasing the crews.  (Courtesy: Mid-day)
22nd Oct
On a talk with CNN-IBN, Somalian ambassador Ebyan Mahamed Salah said yesterday that Indian sailors held captive by Somali pirates are safe. But, meanwhile, Ms. Ebyan also made it clear that India’s navy cannot enter Somali waters as India has no legal agreement with Somalia to order its navy to intervene in the waters of Somalia.
16th Nov
Pirates release Stolt Valor, crew on way home
Somali hijackers of Stolt Valor released the ship and its crew on Sunday, 16 Nov. 2008. All the 22 Crew of the ship, including 18 Indians, are safe and on their way back to Home. The vessel was released reportedly after prolonged negotiations and a ransom paid by the Japanese owner of the vessel to the pirates, though there was no official confirmation on the amount. NUSI chairman Abdul Gani refused to go into details about the release but said, “definitely ransom has been paid.” He said and added that the sailors did not have any medical problems.
20th Nov
MT Stolt Valor – Facts, Details and exact line of events
Information and clarifications from crew manning company: Ebony Ship
The crew Managers of the Stolt Valor have issued clarifications and
information regarding the whole episode of Hijack.

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