Sitting together at a popular beach resort overlooking the wide ocean ( the very mode of transport that robbed a 1000 productive days of his life), Jewel Ahiable, one of the Ghanaian crew members on board the ship “MV Iceberg” gave an account of events that happened before and during his 1000 days in captivity with Somalia pirates. Read some very chilling and heartwarming revelations, how on three occasions international naval ships come near but never rescued them and the eventual 13 days rescue operation that eventually set them free “I always wonder if we would have stayed that long with the pirates if there was an American, British, French or German on board?” Jewel asked me . Read the interview below.
Ghanashippingguide (GSG); good day, to begin with tell us a bit about that vessel you were sailing with.
Jewel Ahiable (JA); Good day, MV Iceberg 1 was the name of the vessel, It was a Panama registered general cargo/RORO vessel with Dubai as her homeport and mostly calling at ports in Yemen, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, India and Oman.
GSG ; How many crew members were on board and what was the nationality mix.
JA; There were 24 crew members on board from 6 different nationalities thus 4 Ghanaians, 9 Yemenis, 6 Indians, 2 Pakistanis, 2 Sudanese and a Filipino.
GSG; before we continue, lets first clear the air about the length of time you spent with the pirates
JA; We were captured on the 29th of March 2010 and rescued on the 23rd of December 2012 that’s 2 years 9 months(33 months) and in days , that would be exactly a 1000 days from the day of capture to the day of rescue.
GSG; If am to play the devil’s advocate, would you say your nationalities had an influence on how long it took for you to be rescued
JA; That’s a very good question, yes my colleagues and I have always wondered what would have happened if there was an American, British, French or German on board, would we have spent that long in captivity? Would navy ships come close and yet do little to rescue us, and even during the 13 day rescue operation, would a navy ship come close just to observe and go announce to the world that the operation taking place was against some rules??? These are questions that I keep asking myself every time.
GSG; Can you take us through the events on that fateful day of the attack?
JA; It was on the 29th of march 2010 after we sailed late on the 28th from the port of Eden in Yemen. We were en route to Dubai and at 7:30 am I heard the emergency alarm, I went to the top deck and heard gun shots , so I hid in the galley, looking beyond, I realized the pirates were attacking the ship from the port side, we tried some few evasive maneuvers but it couldn’t help as the ship was old and a bit slow with no proper defensive system on board. At 7:45 am, the pirates had taken over the vessel ,we were summoned to the bridge and informed that the ship was now changing course to Somalia.
GSG: Did your vessel make any distress call to other ships around the area during the attack, and didn’t that yield any results.
JA: Well our distress was heard, because that afternoon, a helicopter and what I believe to be a naval vessel came close and asked if we needed assistance being fully aware of the attack, the pirates however resisted strongly and asked the vessel to sail about 20 miles clear, an order to which the vessel obliged as it escorted our vessel together with the pirates for four days into Somali waters.
GSG: Getting to Somalia, What was the next move by the pirates
JA: Lots of pirates and their lords came onboard once we got to Somalia, there was lots of drinking and smoking, they were in a merry making mood as they seized our phones, laptops and personal gadgets. They then brought a pirate surveyor on board who valued the ship and quoted a ransom of 10 million Dollars. At that point most of us were a bit skeptical about our chances because we knew such an amount was too much for our owner but we kept the faith. Contacts and communications were made back and forth with the owner of the vessel but no concrete response was given so we were kept hostage and our woes began.
GSG: I heard it’s the tradition of pirates to use a pirated ship to assist other hijacking operation, did you go through that.
JA: Yes , You see it is important to know that most pirates do not know how to steer a ship and would therefore rely on the captives to help sail the ship under their instructions. So on the 15th of May 2010, after they had repainted our ship and changed its name to “SEA EXPRESS” , 20 armed pirates came on board with 2 speed boats and we set sail to undertake another pirate attack, over 500 nautical miles at sea we encountered a navy patrol vessel, little did the pirates know that even when a ship is repainted and renamed, there are other means to know the exact vessel. We told them of our intention to reach the next port (of course we said that under instructions from the pirates) then The patrol vessel requested to come on board for an inspection at which point the pirates came out in their numbers with weapons to refuse that request. We had to sail back to Somalia again under the watchful eyes of yet another navy vessel.
GSG. Back again to Somalia with the pirates, situations might have gone from bad to worse then, especially as another potential attack was foiled by the patrol vessel
JA; Yeah, situations became worse, and at this point they were determined to get their ransom no matter the circumstance so they kept fluctuating the price tag, at a point it went down to 2 million dollars but there was still no sign of payments from our owner. The pirates kept changing the interpreters and on one occasion, an interpreter called Hassan came in and promised he had a plan to get them the money of course with a commission.
You know what his plan was? He suggested that they bring in a doctor to take our hearts and kidneys for sale and that was the only way they could get their money since it was obvious that the owner had neglected us.
GSG This must be tough for the crew to handle, and all this while was there any attempt by international organizations
JA: yes very tough indeed my friend, being told that you were going to die in this manner, they made us talk to some friends and family to bid them farewell, and we also spoke numerous times to international human rights organizations and other concerned bodies. We kept being assured that everything was being done frantically to rescue us. The international organizations told us they were aware of other vessels in that region and everything was being done to clear all soon. So we kept faith and hope alive.
GSG; When you say “other ships in that region” does that mean there were other pirated ships in that region.
JA; Oh yeah, there were other pirate gangs with hijacked ships waiting for ransom , I must say the payment of ransom was a sight to behold, I have witnessed on a couple of occasions ransoms being delivered. A helicopter or plane hovers around the sea gives a signal to the pirates and then the ransom is dropped attached a parachute in the sea, The pirates then go pick the money with a speed boat, shares their booty and allow the ship to go. Yes so there were other ships just that ours’ stayed longer in captivity.
“In 2011 we were forced to help the pirates attempt yet another attack…”
This is rather a very long conversation, keep reading however as we compile the concluding part of this interview , how Jewel together with the rest of the crew had to help the pirates attempt another attack and how they were forced to sail the vessel through a storm till it (Vessel) went aground filling the engine room with sea water and still the torture continued. And finally their 13 day “Hollywood style” rescue operation.
CLICK HERE to read the concluding part of this story
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