The families of Pakistani sailors Captain Wasi Hassan, Syed Alam, Ali Rehman and Mohammad Muzammil once eagerly awaited visits and phone calls from their loved ones, who work as crew members on merchant ships. Their eagerness has now taken on an ominous tone – they wait to hear if their family members are still alive. The four men are being held captive by Somali pirates who captured their vessel, the MV Suez, on August 2, 2010.
The Pakistanis are among the 545 sailors currently being held hostage by Somali pirates, according to the European Union Naval Force (EUNAVFOR). Over 20 vessels and an unconfirmed number of smaller vessels and boats are being held by the pirates, for whom kidnappings is a highly lucrative profession.
Express News contacted Hasan on Sunday, who said: “We are not in a good condition at all. They (the pirates) just beat us up while handing the phone over.” The call was disconnected while Hassan was pleading with the pirates to not beat him up for using the phone.
According to EU NAVFOR, the MV Suez reported being under small arms fire from a pirate attack in the early hours of August 2. “Minutes later she reported pirates on board. After notification of the attack, attempts were made to make contact with MV Suez but to no avail. MV Suez was travelling in the Internationally Recommended Transit Corridor 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 23-member crew comprised Egyptians, Pakistanis, Sri Lankans and Indians. It was a Panama flagged vessel carrying a cargo of cement bags and was destined for Eritrea.
The families of the crew members have appealed to the government, political parties and to people to donate towards the pirates’ ransom demand of $2 million. According to Muzammil’s brother Mohammad Kashan, the bank account set up by the families for donations had only netted about Rs350,000 as of Saturday. The deadline to pay the ransom is May 9.
Interior Minister Rehman Malik has said that he will contact Interpol to secure the release of the Pakistani captives. Human rights activist Ansar Burney has been in touch with the Somali pirates as well.
Last month, the crew of the MV Rak Africana, including five Pakistanis, was released almost a year after the vessel’s capture. Eleven Pakistanis are currently being held hostage on board two ships, the MV Iceberg (Panama flag) and the MV Albedo (Malaysia flag).
Anger and a sense of desperation pervade the air at Syed Alam’s house. His wife, Mehtab, has to raise funds for his release and single-handedly raise their children, one of which is mentally challenged. “Every time he calls, he is more concerned about our welfare and how we are coping. He asked us to appeal to the government and political parties, but how do I explain to him that we have been doing this for months and nothing has come of it?”
Ali Rehman’s brother Ataullah told Express News, “Rehman’s children remember him from day to night. He is the only breadwinner of the family, we have no other support.”
The family of 24-year-old Mohammad Muzammil railed against the government for not helping them. Muzammil’s father works for the Karachi Port Trust and his brother, Mohammad Kashan, recalls that he always wanted to sail off to foreign shores. The trip with MV Suez was only his second. According to Kashan, the girl he was arranged to be married has become a shadow of her former self.
Muzammil’s mother sobs at their predicament. Even though Karachi is home to some of the country’s richest businessmen, few have stepped up to offer the family any support. “The government offered compensation to those injured and killed in an attack on a gambling den!” she exclaimed. “Are we not Pakistanis? Why can’t they help us?”
Kashan said, “If the government claims it is working to release them, why
have they not informed any of the families?”
A life spent on the open seas – away from one’s family, friends and a normal routine – isn’t ideal. But high salaries have lured away thousands to work for private shipping companies. These jobs are now fraught with peril.
Mehtab Alam sighs. “I used to always tell my husband that he had a ridiculous job – he would be away for two years and unemployed for the next two. I will not let him go again.”
Total attacks worldwide: 156
Total hijackings worldwide: 19
Incidents reported for Somalia:
Total incidents: 107
Total hijackings: 17
Total hostages: 309
People killed: 7
Current vessels held by
Source: ICC International Maritime Bureau, as of
April 14, 2011
Published in The Express Tribune, April 25th, 2011.
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