The Liberation Of The MV Suez And Its Bitter End - An Incredible Pirate Story
(Updated on June 20)
If a story of a pirated ships near Somalia ever makes it into a movie, this is the one that would make for the most incredible and excellent action script. It involves a ten month long crew ordeal, ever increasing ransom demands, arrested mercenaries and a fight between two hostile navies which both want to appear as savior of the pirated crew.
The MV Suez was captured by Somali pirates in the Gulf of Aden on August 2 2010. It was freed a week ago after a quite dramatic story but its ordeal did not end there. It still had to nearly create an international military conflict and more sad sea drama.
MV SUEZ was travelling in the Internationally Recommended Transit Corridor (IRTC) when attacked. Immediately after the first report a helicopter was directed to the ship but pirates had already taken over the command of the vessel.
The MV SUEZ, deadweight 17,300 tonnes with a crew of 23 (Egypt, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and India Nationalities), is a Panama flagged merchant vessel with a cargo of cement bags. EU NAVFOR is monitoring the situation.
Later reports vary between 22 and 28 crew member, six Indians, eleven to thirteen Egyptians, four Pakistanis and one to four Sri Lankan.
The MV Suez, IMO 8218720, is a multi-purpose/heavy lift cargo ship which was build in the East German Warnow shipyard in 1984. The ships ownership has changed quite often. It sailed earlier as Torm Texas, Industrial Champion, Cte Cinta, Amsterdam, Nedlloyd Amsterdam, Sevastaki (pic), Evi (pic), Eastern Moon and Rahim (pic).
IMO 8218720 in 2008 as Rahim - Photo by Peter Wearing
This ship is owned and operated by an Egyptian company, Red Sea Navigation, but flagged in Panama.
MV Suez was on her way from Pakistan to Eritrea. She is old, much abused and has likely only scrap value. The cement cargo is not really valuable either. Who would pay a six or seven figure to free such a ship and its crew?
The Egyptian ship owners, Abdel Meguid Matar and Mohamed Sobhi, would not. They would not even put up the crew's pay to support their families. At the end of August 2010 Egyptian family members of the crew sued the owners to pay the demanded ransom, $1 million, and some went into hunger strike. But month after month passed without any success.
Somali news source Ahram Online reported Dec. 15 that pirates turned down a ransom payment of $500,000 for the release of the MV Suez because the offer “came too late,” according to the ship’s engineer.
The pirates then increased their ransom demand to $1.1 million.
The Political Issue
As month after month went by and the cases of the MV Suez sailors and their families grew -via the local media- into interior political issues in India as well as in Pakistan.
The Indian government tried to apply pressure on the owner via the Egyptian government. When another deadline was set by the pirates to March 11 2011 and went by without any payment, the interior political pressure increased:
The families and relatives of the abducted sailors, who have lost all hopes, are going to hold a protest rally in New Delhi Thursday against the "silence of the government" on the matter. The protestors will march from Jantar Mantar to the Parliament House.
At the same time, the opposition parties led by Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) are putting pressure on the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) Government to deal with the issue in a serious manner.
But the Indian government still showed no urgency to solve the problem.
In Pakistan someone acted. Late in February the Pakistani human rights advocate Ansar Barney made phone contact with the pirates and started his own negotiations. He is a former minister and a UN Expert Adviser on human rights. When the ransom deadline had passed without the ship owner paying, Barney was said to meet the shipowner in Egypt to discuss a combined ransom payment.
The Ansar Barney Welfare Trust, a humanitarian NGO, started to collect the demanded $1.1 million to free the sailors. An Indian national living in Dubai was reported to be willing to contribute $500,000.
At the end of April the Indian government established an Inter-Ministerial-Group to handle the cases of the then 46 Indians in the captivity of Somali pirates. Local political pressure continued to build.
In Pakistan the governor of Sindh province and a Citizen-Police-Liaison Committee got involved with Barney on the issue. Together they flew to Dubai for negotiations on the issue.
Somewhere along the Egyptian owners of the ship became furious about the court cases by the families of the Egyptian crew members on board of the MV Suez. The owners backtracked on a promise to pay some share of the ransom they had earlier agreed to.
Also somewhere along the ransom demand seems to have been again increased from the earlier reported $500,000 and $1.1 million to $2.1 million.
Freeing The Ship
In May the money Ansar Barney had collected by then was to be transferred to the pirates in a secret mission by the British mercenary company Salama Fikira. On May 24 a Cessna Citation business jet flew with the ransom money from the Seychelles to Mogadishu, Somalia. There it met a Cessna Caravan single engine plane which came from Nairobi, Kenia and was modified for the actual money drops onto the pirated ships. The planes flew under cover of an UN humanitarian evacuation mission and were supposedly coordinated with Somali authorities.
But when the mercenaries landed in Somalia on to transfer the money between the planes for delivery to the MV Suez and another ship, the MV Yuan Xiang, they were held up and the money was seized by Somali security forces at the Mogadishu airport. The six men transfer team, 3 Brits, 2 Kenyan and 1 American were arrested.
This was a surprise as money transfers like this one are routine and are usually coordinated with the government (which likely takes a share) and the airport guards are supposed to protect the transfer missions.
Another pirate deadline on June 1 was moved to June 11 because no other plane could be found to drop the money to the pirated ship. In phone calls the crew now claimed that the pirates started to torture them.
Despite the money reportedly still being in the hands of the Somali government, not the pirates, the ship was finally set free:
[T]he foreign security team arrested for bringing in $3.6 million in ransoms for two ships was due to appear in court in Mogadishu on Thursday. The team's lawyer was looking to get all six bailed, providing an aircraft and the money in Somalia's central bank as security. Details have yet to emerge from the appearance.
Reports the money is still in the bank has not stopped the release of the two ships it was destined for. The MV Yuan Xiang was released last week, while the second vessel the money was reportedly heading too, the MV Suez, gained freedom on Saturday [June 11].
Why would the pirates, after such a long time, let the ships go when the ransom money was still in the hands of the Somali government? Could there be some cooperation between them? Or was there an additional money transfer?
The ship owner and the freight owner seem not to have paid anything. The Pakistani claim that the Indian who was supposed to come up with a $500,000 share of the money did not show up when the money was to be transferred and that all the money was collected in Pakistan.
Pakistan was quite proud about this while the Indian government was criticized over the lack of action from its side.
Still the drama was, by far, not over.
When the ship was freed on June 11 it sailed off towards Salalah in Oman. The Egyptian Assistant Foreign Minister Abdel-Hakam said that all steps were taken to ensure the safe arrival of the ship at the port.
Three days later he got egg on his face when MV Suez was again attacked by pirates. The crew fended off the pirate attack and via radio asked an Indian military ship for help which, the crew said, was denied.
India sent its own ship, the guided-missile frigate INS Godavari, to escort the MV Suez.
At that point, around June 14/15/16, a competition evolved between India and Pakistan on who would escort the MV Suez (Indian TV video). Both had already claimed they were escorting the MV Suez when it was fending off a pirate attack on its own.
But it was the PNS Babur which fended off yet another pirate attack on the MV Suez.
The wife of one of the Indian seaman on board of the MV Suez talked with him by phone. (Indian TV interview). The Captain has diabetes and isn't well. Two other person are very ill, she says dying. Food is a problem as is fuel. She says the ship was twice attacked by pirates after its release and that the second attack was repelled by the PNS Babur.
There was more trouble to come:
Wasi Hasan, MV Suez’s Pakistani captain said the crew may have to abandon the ship and hitch a ride with PNS Babar. “The boiler in the engine room is not working, so our speed has slowed down from 15 knots to 8 knots,” he said while talking to NDTV.
He also said that there is eight tons of diesel left on board, not enough to get Suez to the port of Salalah in Oman.
[I]n a controversial move, the Indian Navy has pulled out the warship INS Godavari that was sent to escort the cargo vessel to Salalah and ward off further attacks.
The Navy took the decision claiming the Suez refused contact.
But sailor Ravinder Singh who is on board the freed ship has denied receiving any communication from the Indian Navy.
He told CNN-IBN that only the Pakistan Navy's Babur is escorting the Suez at this point.
"We are moving towards Oman and are still mid sea. We will take about 34 hours to reach Salalah. INS Godavari is not with us. We haven't even seen the ship yet. It has not called us. PNS Babur has been escorting us since Wednesday night. Naval commandos are accompanying us as well. They provided us with medical assistance, food supplies and water. They will be staying with us till we reach the next port," said sailor Ravinder Singh.
The Indian and Pakistani military are not exactly on a friendly footing with each other. The political stakes are high, especially for the Indian government, which so far did not look good in this whole affair while the Pakistanis payed the ransom, got the ship and crew released and were escorting them to safety.
It is unclear yet how and when exactly the following happened but the Pakistani and Indian frigates somehow collided with, or rammed, each other:
Pakistan has claimed that the Indian Navy Ship Godavari not only hampered the humanitarian operations being carried out by Pakistan Navy Ship Babur, but also undertook dangerous manoeuvres during the course of the incident.
A statement issued by the Foreign Office and carried by Pakistani media said Pakistan had lodged a protest with the Indian government on an incident that occurred while MC Suez was provided with security cover.
The exact location of the incident, however, was not mentioned in the statement released by Pakistan's Foreign Office. "It [incident] resulted in the brushing of the sides of INS Godavari and PNS Babur," the statement said.
India somewhat denied the incident:
An Indian navy official refuted Pakistani allegations that an Indian vessel had put at risk MV Suez. “Reports of aggression by INS Godavari are incorrect and based on misinformation,” he said.
The Indians later lodged a counter protest and claimed that it was the Pakistani ship which hit its ship at its helicopter deck while trying to pass it (NDTV news video). The report tells of anonymous officials' claims that the Indian Navy is withholding video of the incident as it does not want to blow up next week's foreign minister meeting between Pakistan and India about nukes and Kashmir.
Does the video exist? High politics were now at stake over the simple escort of a crippled ship.
The End Of MV Suez
Meanwhile, on the 18th, the MV Suez, still at open sea some 70 miles off Oman, ran out of fuel. On order of the Egyptian owner the tug Hasic was dispatched from Oman to bring the ship into the harbor.
Without fuel, low on food and in a gathering storm the crew finally gave up on its ship:
The MV Suez's 22-member crew, including six Indians, were on Sunday transferred to a Pakistani warship when the Egyptian merchant vessel, which was recently released by Somali pirates after payment of ransom, began taking on water in the Arabian Sea. MV Suez was on its way to the Omat of Salalah when it ran out of fuel and began taking on water in stormy weather, Geo News channel quoted its sources as saying.
The Suez's captain had also opened the vessel's valves to scuttle it, the channel reported.
MV Suez Captain Syed Wasi Hasan said on phone that the weather had turned threatening due to the monsoons.
"We were on the open seas for the past three days. The owner of the ship has thus far not sent any fuel," he said.
It seems like this is the end of IMO 8218720, the MV Suez. But for a ship with such an adventures soul, or maybe it was a jinxed one, it is better to go down in the Arabian Sea than to get teared apart on the beaches of Alang.
After their long ordeal and the dramatic last days the crew is now save and hopefully all will come home. The Pakistanis will transfer the MV Suez crew from their old PNS Babur to the brand new Pakistani frigate PNS Zulfiquar which will bring them to a festive welcome in Karachi. The PNS Babur is to continue its counter pirate operations. The mercenaries were sentenced on the 19th to ten to fifteen years and the money and their planes are now officially confiscated. It is expected that after yet another ransom pay gets made, this time to the Somali government, the mercenaries will get released.
What more could Hollywood ask for? Lots of pirate attacks, shabby Egyptian businessmen, a multicultural ship crew in a deep long trouble, suffering children and families, mercenaries with lots of money caught by a half illegitimate government in the middle of a civil war, more pirate attacks, two nuclear armed navies ramming their ships into each other threatening a war escalation, the sad moment when the MV Suez finally goes down in a storm, the happy ending for the crew. The wife of the crewman in the video above is pretty and smart. Her figure can certainly be used to add some love drama on top of it all.
Then again the story lacks white men in the hero roles. That, unfortunately, may be a no-no if one wants to have some box office success in 'western' societies.
Posted by b on June 19, 2011 at 03:14 PM | Permalink
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