Spotlight On Owners

In an interesting development, the relatives of Indian crewmen abducted by Somali pirates onboard the “MV Iceberg-1” have called upon authorities to arrest the owners of the Dubai-based shipping company and freeze their assets in an effort to secure the release of their beloved ones.

Almost a year after the vessel was hijacked close to the Gulf of Aden, Somali pirates have now set a deadline for the company to pay the $ 10 million demanded as ransom, or face the execution of the abducted crew.

As the week-long deadline nears an end, relatives of the six Indian crew are protesting in the Indian capital New Delhi to pressurise the Indian government to secure the release. Meanwhile, the Ministry of External Affairs in India has said that it is the shipping company which has to secure the release of its employees.

The roro vessel, owned by Dubai-based Azal Shipping, was hijacked on March 29, 2010, when it was sailing with 24 crewmen, about ten nautical miles from Aden Port, Gulf of Aden.

The shipping company is said to have given up negotiating with the pirates, due to its inability to pay the ransom amount as demanded.

But relatives of the crew say they are shattered with the developments as no one wants to own up the responsibility for securing the release of the abducted crewmen.

“The company says it is too poor to pay the ransom and have left its employees at the mercy of the pirates.

The Indian government has washed off its hands stating that it is the responsibility of the company to secure the release. You just cannot pass on the responsibility,” said one of the family members.

“We are urging the Indian government to contact its counterpart in the UAE so that they can take action against the company. We want the owners to be arrested,” he added.

But the Indian government has so far failed to act. The Hindu quoting Satish Agnihotri, Director-General of Shipping in India said: “It’s a tight-rope walk. The pirates should not get the impression that we are in a proactive [mode]. There have been attempts by the pirates in the past to get the government involved. We have always said no. If the ransom is paid, the situation can spin out of hand. We keep a discrete watch. Piracy today has become an organised crime, with roots in the developed countries.”

Meanwhile, two of the crew members abducted by the pirates is said to have died in captivity. While one of them went missing last month after armed pirates took him away and is suspected to have been killed, another sailor died last October due to malnutrition. His body is being preserved in the refrigerator.

No official from the shipping company was available for comments.

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