The international shipping community is being accused of ignoring the plight of seafarers held in captivity after their vessels are captured off the Somalia coast.
Humanitarian groups say the psychological plight of crews who are being beaten, starved and deprived of basic human rights while in the hands of the pirates has been forgotten as the industry focuses on the commercial impact of the problem.
Although deaths while being held captive are rare, there have been reports that the poor conditions crew are kept in have led to heart attacks or strokes for some.
The Maritime Piracy Humanitarian Response Programme has been launched with funds from a number of maritime organisations, including the TK Foundation. MPHRP chairman Peter Swift said more needed to be done to push awareness of the trauma facing crews once they are hijacked.
Very few crew members have spoken publicly of the trauma, fear and suffering they are subject to. One of the first is Calixto Caniete, master of Renuar.
In an exclusive video that can be viewed at pirates.lloydslist.com, he shares vivid details of more than four months held hostage.
After being bound, beaten, starved and mentally tortured, Capt Caniete has yet to go back to sea after drugged gun-wielding Somalia pirates threatened to kill the crew when ransom negotiations stalled.
Shipowners need to be more aware of their humanitarian responsibilities, he told Lloyd’s List in an exclusive interview. It is the crew that run their ships, he said, and the owners need crews.
He has only now, months after being freed once a ransom was finally paid, begun to tell his story. It took him weeks to accept an invitation to go to the World Maritime University anti piracy conference in Malmö last week to spend ten minutes calling for more awareness to the plight of crews, particularly ones from Asian countries that get forgotten.
The 70,156 dwt Renuar was sailing towards Fujairah after leaving Mauritius with a full cargo of grain when in the early daylight hours of December 11 last year it was attacked.
The ship was 550 miles off India, 1,050 miles off the Somali coast and close to the Maldives. It was heading north on a course given to it by the UK Maritime Trade Organization’s centre in Dubai, where it had been sending daily position reports, when it ran straight into a waiting pirate mothership.
Capt Caniete had been putting the crew through ant-piracy drills, the ship’s railings were covered in barbed wire and the fire hoses rigged to pump water over the side of the ship at the press of a button. Dummy watchkeepers had been rigged around the side of the ship to make it look like they had more than the 25 crew onboard. But it was not enough on a large, slow drybulk vessel with a low freeboard.
The pirate mothership launched a skiff and began firing at the bulk vessel using AK47s, rocket propelled grenades and machine guns. The captain hit the emergency distress alarm that alerted both the naval forces in the region and the ship’s owners. In the six hours that the Renuar sustained the attack from the two pirate vessels no help arrived.
“I had to remain brave and show courage for the crew’s sake,” said Capt Caniete, who admitted he was scared throughout the attack.
Renuar and its Filippino crew were held for 133 days. During the long process of haggling over the ransom payment the crew’s families were being kept up to date. Capt Caniete’s wife was three months pregnant at the time of its capture. On more than one occasion she was told that he had been killed or about to be killed due to stalled ransom payments.
Four months in the hands of Somali pirates Renuar master Calixto Caniete relives horror of hijacking ordeal Craig Eason – Monday 24 October 2011
THE previously untold experiences of the crew of the bulk carrier Renuar , held captive for 133 days, are typical of those of other ships held captive, some for over a year.
Renuar master Calixto Caniete had to hold a stoic front before his crew to ensure they were led through the ordeal safely.
When the pirates got on board, they were angry, both at having taken so long to capture the ship, and because they claimed one of them had drowned falling off a ladder they tried to use on the stern of the ship.
The crew were corralled on to the ship’s bridge, beaten, and told to sail towards the Somali coastline, beginning four month’s of torture and fear as the vessel’s owner began ransom payments.
Surprisingly for the captain, the pirates knew how to use the satellite communication equipment on board and would take photographs of the crew and send them off to the ship’s owner to show how serious they were about their ransom demands.
“When they got fed up with the company over the long negotiations over the ransom they said they would kill us,” Capt Caniete said. “They were aggressive and there was no indication they were joking.” Each time they threatened to kill him, he had to believe they were serious.
The crew were given barely edible rice to eat and yellowish water to drink, and kept continually under armed watch, night and day, for the whole duration of their captivity.
Capt Caniete was singled out for punishment.
When the Somalis on board heard a rumour the ship had gold bars on board they forced Capt Caniete into one of the laden holds full of fumigated grain and forced him to dig for hours at gunpoint.
“I kept begging them to let me stop, telling them there was no gold, but they just did not listen,” he said.
He was also repeatedly humiliated by the pirates who never let him have more than a minute of privacy in the bathroom before opening the door and threatening him with their guns.
Capt Caniete tried to ensure his crew were not punished too. He told the pirates to punish him when a crew error led to the fresh water being salty. He was smashed in the ribs repeatedly with the butt of the pirates’ guns.
“Everyday they were chewing khat or some substance. If they did not have it they were very aggressive. Once they had it they were more relaxed, but at midnight they were evil.”
Capt Caniete said the pirates may have wanted to use Renuar as a mothership.
“At one point they told us to sail northeast, but I managed to convince the commander we have no more fuel,” he said. “I was lucky he listened.”
He dreamt of a rescue being made, he said, but none came.
As he and his crew were being kept in the same area as many of the pirates on board, Capt Caniete knew the crew were being used as a shield to prevent any rescue attempt being made.