In this day and age, it is difficult to conjure up visions of pirates or of ships seized by them. The entire notion, with its imagery involving the Jolly Roger and men with swords and patches over their eyes, seems to belong to a different time, a far older age or to classic novels such as Treasure Island set in those times.
Yet, for the seven Pakistani crew members of the Malaysian vessel, the MV Albedo, who returned to Karachi on August 2 after being taken captive by Somali pirates in November 2010, piracy on the high seas remains a chilling reality. A ransom of $1.1 million was reportedly paid for the crew members, raised mainly by their families and donors.
It is unclear if the Pakistan government contributed any money for the release of the men, with no clear information being given out. This is, perhaps, understandable given the risk of future action by pirates who have become the scourge of the seas around Somalia. Right now, Bangladeshi, Indian, Sri Lankan, Iranian and Iraqi nationals remain trapped on the ship, located a short distance off the Somalian Coast.
Victims of pirates have often described their ordeal of being held by sometimes abusive pirates. It is hard to imagine what it must be like to be held week after week, year after year, in such grim circumstances fraught with constant peril. We can only rejoice with the men, from Karachi and elsewhere in the country — finally reunited with their families, including at least one child born during his father’s long absence. But rather than labelling the Somalis strictly as villains, there is a need to take a broader perspective: piracy in the region was triggered largely by giant trawlers from Europe and the Middle East moving into Somali waters, often illegally, and leaving entire fishing villages destitute as their ‘catch’ vanished. The lawlessness in Somalia adds to the hazards. These issues need to be looked at if the piracy issue is to be solved and others are to be saved from the same fate as those recently rescued.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 6th, 2012.