A Ukrainian seafarer has told a US piracy trial that Somali hijackers threatened to execute him at knifepoint on board a German tanker.
Oleg Dereglazov also revealed that pirates suffocated him by putting a plastic bag over his head and led him to believe the captain of Marida Tankers’ 13,300-dwt Merida Marguerite (built 2008) had been killed during the crew’s eight-month ordeal in 2010.
The crewman was testifying at a federal trial in Virginia.
He revealed one crew member had his genitals painfully tied together with plastic ties and that he himself was threatened with the same action if he didn’t tell them where extra fuel on board the ship was hidden, although he repeatedly told them there wasn’t any.
Dereglazov was also hung from a meat hook inside the ship’s freezer while half-clothed and had his feet and hands tied together for hours under the hot sun.
Alleged pirate Mohammad Saali Shibin, 53, is facing charges of piracy and hostage-taking.
Prosecutors said Shibin’s role aboard the Marida Marguerite was that of a hostage negotiator and that he briefly served as a guard, making him the highest-ranking pirate they have ever arrested and brought to trial.
Last week, prosecutors played recorded phone calls Shibin made to a negotiator for Marida Marguerite’s owners.
In them, he said he was not a pirate and that he was only concerned about the ship’s crew.
He warned that the pirates had no regard for the integrity of the ship, that they could have inadvertently blown it up by smoking onboard and that piracy is considered a noble thing in Somalia.
“When a pirate hijacks a ship, instead of condemning him, and telling him that he’s a criminal, no, his people will call him our hero,” he said in one of the calls.
In another recording, the ship’s captain said that Shibin was the one who was protecting the ship’s crew from the pirates, but in later testimony he said he was forced to say that by Shibin.
The master also said he was forced to tell his company’s negotiator that if the pirates’ demands weren’t met within 24 hours, then the crew would be handed over to the terrorist organisation Al-Shabaab and shot and killed.
Shibin’s court-appointed attorney, James Broccoletti, didn’t dispute that Dereglazov or some of the other 22 crew members were tortured.
But he said Shibin was merely on board to serve as a mediator between the pirates, the crew and the ship’s owner and that he had made a mistake when he accepted $30,000 for his time after the hostages were released.
The ship was ultimately ransomed for $5m.
Shibin said in the phone calls that they had to spend $700 to $800 a day just on supplies for the pirates and the crew.
Broccoletti said that some of the hostages got along well with Shibin and that he would sometimes let them use his cellphone when other pirates weren’t watching. As a ‘gift’, he let Dereglazov call his family on his birthday.
Prosecutors noted that Dereglazov kept details of what happened in a diary that he disguised with technical notes.
The trial is expected to last several weeks.