The MV Albedo with a crew of 23, seven of them Pakistanis, was captured by Somali pirates on November 26, 2010. As usual the pirates have demanded a ransom, and the deadline for the payment ran out on Tuesday.
Somali pirates have killed and severely injured their hostages in the past when applying pressure to those they seek ransom money from, and the fate of our seamen is in the balance.
They have been particularly unlucky in that they have been taken hostage twice, and Interior Minister Rehman Malik has said that he has ‘devised a strategy’ to secure the release of the men. Malik has no known competencies on matters pertaining to the high seas.
A Pakistani entrepreneur Malik Riaz Hussain has now stepped into the breech and offered Rs130 million as the balance of the money the pirates are demanding, and there is hope that the men will be released within days.
Their families have expressed their gratitude and acknowledged that their own fund-raising efforts, brave as they were, would never have gathered the necessary sum.
There is no reliable figure for the number of Pakistanis, men and women (some women are reported to work in the leisure-cruise industry) who work in the merchant marine services of dozens of nations globally, but it is anecdotally said to be in the tens of thousands.
It is likely that a majority of them ply the routes in the Gulf, the Indian Ocean and the South China Sea, and will be vulnerable to the predations of Somali pirates.
The call by Malik Riaz for the USA ‘to use its gunboats’ to protect shipping suggests that he is not acquainted with ground realities. There is currently an international anti-piracy maritime force made up of vessels from India, Russia, China, Japan, South Korea, the EU, Nato, Australia, Canada, Bulgaria and Turkey, 25 vessels in all.
They patrol and area of 3.2 million square miles – an area about the size of Western Europe. Our own navy has participated in anti-piracy operations.
Currently the pirates hold seven large ships and between 159 and 209 hostages, sources and figures differ. About 1000 pirates have been captured in recent years and are being tried (and convicted) in 21 countries.
Pirates are operating ever-further from the Somali coast and their success in capturing merchant ships has dropped dramatically since the international forces were deployed. Some nations have permitted merchant ships to be armed and/or carry armed security guards.
This is a significant international effort, far beyond a few gunboats. Let us hope our men return safely, and we must continue to support the protection of vital sea-lanes with our own air and naval assets.
The writer is a British social worker settled in Pakistan. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
This article was posted by Neptune Maritime Security via thenews.com.pk. MaritimeSecurity.Asia in cooperation with www.neptunemaritimesecurity.com