Held hostage: When will I see my father?
My father has been held captive for 17 months by Somali pirates and is living in the most miserable conditions.
Our lives changed on November 2010, when MV Albedo was hijacked. My father had devoted 40 years of his life at sea to provide for his family, and now that his time to retire and live comfortably is near, his life is at the mercy of ruthless Somali pirates.
A 17 month wait is a long time when you are kept in a cabin. It is even worse when that is in the middle of the ocean, far disconnected from the world. Those hijacked have witnessed the death of their companion who died due to inhumane living conditions. One captive, Rajbhar Rajoo, lost his life to cholera as there were no medicines on board to cure his disease. My father is living in those same conditions of depravity.
Just imagine the pain Rajoo's family is suffering. Their young son died in captivity and his body remains in that place still. His body has been stored by the pirates in one of the freezers on board. The ship does not have a continuous supply of electricity. It is hard to imagine how the remaining crew passes their time with the knowledge that their colleague lies dead in the freezer.
My father, along with his crew, is living a life worse than that of a prisoner. For 17 months they have not seen meat, milk, eggs and other basic necessities; for 17 months they have been drinking the kind of water we wouldn't even wash our clothes with - they have been clinging to the hope of being released. One cannot even imagine how long a day can stretch when subjected to such destitution.
I did not know about my father's kidnapping until 10 months had passed. He had insisted that I go to London to pursue a Masters degree; one of his main concerns was my education. A month after I left, his ship was hijacked. The first thing my father asked my mother after being held hostage was,
“Is Mishal still studying?”
Despite being held captive in such harrowing circumstances, my father's main concern was still my well-being and career.
My mother had hidden the bitter truth from me so that my studies were not affected. She took a loan to pay for my tuition and expenses so that I could finish what my father had dreamed of. I cannot express in words how this traumatic news affected me when I returned home.
Every time I sit down to eat, I find it hard to swallow my food because the knowledge of my father's deprivation plagues me. I spend sleepless nights wondering when I will see him walk into our house again.
A father is a guardian who goes to any length for the security and well-being of his child. I graduated with a distinction, but it hurts deeply to know that the man who supported me all my life and encouraged me to begin a career was not there to share my little achievement - one that would have meant the world to him.
Life has taken a poignant twist. I could have never imagined my mother appearing on national television asking for ‘donations’. Nobody enjoys shedding their tears for the world to see.
It is not easy for us. When there is a heavy price put on the head of your loved one, what would you do?
On a few occasions my father was put on the phone with the pirates in the background demanding the formidable figure of $10 million. During one such phone call, my mother was told that my father had been shot, which was followed by three months of agonising silence. Another call followed eventually and assured my mother that my father was alive. Just imagine the trauma of this waiting period.
This is only my side of the story. 22 other sailors and each member of those families are going through misery and suffering.
The chief officer on board, Mohammad Mujtaba, has three daughters, and has become a father to a son whom he has not met. Abdullah, his son, is the first male to be born in the family in 30 years; Third Officer Raheel Anwar went on board to support his retired father and three unmarried sisters ; Fourth Engineer Zulfiqar Ali suffers from diabetes and is struggling with the absence of medical aid on board. Ahsan Naveed, a cadet, was only 19 years old when he boarded MV Albedo. This was his first voyage.
The support given to crew families and efforts made by Citizens-Police Liaison Committee Chief Ahmed Chinoy and the governor of Sindh, Dr Ishratul Ebad Khan have been heartening. Mr Chinoy has refused to pay the ransom. He put pressure on the pirates to release the ship using different channels. The initial formidable figure was of $10 million, and after 17 months of constant agony and tireless efforts, the pirates have finally settled for $2.85 million to release the ship. The owner is not in the position to pay the full amount hence in utter desperation to repatriate our fathers, brothers and sons, the families have spearheaded the ‘Save MV Albedo’ campaign to meet the shortfall of $1.7 million.
As for the long term solution, this international issue is getting the attention it needs now. A conference was held this year in London and Karachi to fight piracy, and the European Union is also taking necessary measures to defeat it.
Since 2010, pirate attacks have dramatically decreased due to an increased number of naval ships patrolling the area. This ship was hijacked in 2010 by Somali pirates and these men deserve their freedom for fighting this torment for as long as they have.
After living the brutal nightmare for nearly two years now, the families of the crew have finally reached the platform where we can see a ray of hope. I am proud to say that this hope has been given by Pakistanis.
The empathy received from our brothers and sisters in Pakistan has been overwhelming, but because the amount to be paid is so huge we are still miles away from what needs to be raised.
May God be with us.
For more information and updates on MV Albedo, click here.
Follow Mishal on Twitter @SaveMVAlbedo