Friday, 13 December 2019

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Somali pirates let Burmese crewmen contact families

Chiang Mai (Mizzima) – The 23 Burmese crewmen of Liberian-flagged container ship MSC Panama, hijacked early this month by Somali pirates, have been allowed to contact their families, the Rangoon branch office of the company said.

The vessel was anchored in Somalia south of Ceel Gaan, a fishing village on the central Somali Indian Ocean coast east of the pirate stronghold of Harardhere. It was being held close to the MV Alabedo, a Malaysia-flagged container ship seized on November 26, Ecoterra piracy reported at yesterday.

“The Somali pirates let the Burmese crewmen call their families three days ago. All said they were in good health and told their families not to worry about them,” an official at the Rangoon branch of St. John’s Ship Management said on condition of anonymity.

On December 10, two boats with a total of five armed pirates on board hijacked the MSC Panama as it was en route from Dar es Salaam in Tanzania to Beira in Mozambique, using rocket-propelled grenades during the attack that occurred 80 nautical miles (92 miles) east of the Tanzanian-Mozambican border, EU Naval Force Somalia, the European Union’s anti-piracy taskforce, reported on its website.

Although the crewmen were not in mortal danger, they needed to keep their spirits up while being held by the pirates, Htay Aung, a central executive committee member of the junta-supported Myanmar Overseas Seafarers’ Association, said.

“The Somali pirate activity left the crewmen, the company owners and the association upset. We need to consider how to handle the problem,” Htay Aung told Mizzima.

The Gulf of Aden, between Somalia and Yemen, with the Suez Canal, form the main shipping gateways between the East and West.    

The release of the MSC Panama and the crewmen would depend on the negotiations between the pirates and the company and such talks normally takes more than two months, Thai-based Seafarers’ Union of Burma official Aung Thura told Mizzima. His union has been outlawed by the Burmese ruling military junta.

Early this year, Norwegian vessel UBT Ocean, crewed by 21 Burmese, was also hijacked off Somalia. The vessel was released in July after the pirates received a US$3.5-million ransom payment.

Pirates in Somalia continued to hold hostage more than 650 seafarers hostage after the number of sea-jacked vessels this year exceeded the pirates’ seizures of last year, “an all-time record, despite the fact that the navies of more than 25 nations regularly patrol these waters”, Ecoterra reported yesterday.


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