Greek Bulker MV BLIDA Released By Somali Pirates After 11 Month Hostage Ordeal
MV BLIDA was released today and the crew is in good condition, given the circumstances. Captain Vitali and the Chief Officer called ECOTERRA Intl. at midday to relay the message to the diplomatic missions, thanking everybody involved in the release efforts.
The captain confirmed that the remaining crew of 25, two sailors had to have a medical evacuation earlier, is all right and happy that they will reach in about five days Mombasa in Kenya.
The released ship and crew are now escorted by a naval vessel through this still dangerous stretch of water.
MV BLIDA was seized on January 01, 2011 at 15h36 UTC (12h36 LT) of New Year's day. The bulk carrier MV BLIDA (IMO 7705635) was attacked by an armed Pirate Action Group of four men in one skiff, which had been launched from earlier pirated MV HANNIBAL II at position Latitude: 15 28N Longitude: 055 51E. The location is approximately 150 nautical miles South East of the port of Salalah, Oman. EU NAVFOR and NATO confirmed the sea-jacking. The 20,586 tonne Bulk Carrier is Algerian flagged and owned. The vessel was on her way to Dar es Salaam, Tanzania from Salalah in Oman at the time of the attack.
The bulker has a multinational crew of 27 seafarers (17 Algerian, 6 Ukrainian - incl. captain-, 2 Filipinos, 1 Indonesian and 1 Jordanian). The official version is that the vessel is carrying a 24,000 tonnes cargo of Clinker.
MV BLIDA was registered for protection with MSC(HOA) but had not reported to UKMTO, EU NAVFOR stated, but did not explain why the vessel was not protected - especially because the vessel used as pirate-launch - MV HANNIBAL II - was reported earlier by NATO to be in the area. Ship manager of MV BLIDA is SEKUR HOLDINGS INC of Piraeus, Greece and registered owner is INTERNATIONAL BULK CARRIER of Algeria.
The manager could for the first time on 05. January contact the Ukrainian captain who said the 27-member crew is safe, the Ukrainian foreign ministry in Kiev said. The captain of the Blida bulk carrier told the Greek manager that "no crew member had been injured" during the attack last Saturday and that the sailors were in "satisfactory" condition. Shipping in Algeria is a government monopoly run by the Algerian state, the National Corporation for Maritime Transport and the Algerian National Navigation Company (Société Nationale de Transports Maritimes et Compagnie Nationale Algérienne de Navigation--SNTM-CNAN).
Earlier on 05. January, shipcharterer IBC said it had received no ransom demand from the unidentified pirates who seized the vessel. "I don't know who will pay, but I repeat that we have not received such a demand," Nasseredine Mansouri, head of International Bulk Carriers (IBC), an Algerian-Saudi company specialising in maritime cargo transport, told AFP.
Justice Minister Tayeb Belaiz said on 06. January his country would not pay a ransom. Belaiz said in a statement to the press that Algeria was the first country to have "called, before the UN general assembly, for the payment of ransom to criminals and kidnappers to become a criminal act". Paying ransom encourages criminals and finances terrorism, he said. "Algeria does not pay ransom," he said adding that the kidnapped crew had been able to contact their families by telephone.
The vessel had arrived in Somalia and was moored off Garacad at the North-Eastern Indian Ocean coast of Somalia as marine observers reported, but then left for a piracy spree and was observed on 22. January 2011 in position Latitude: 09 54N Longitude: 052 56E with course 049 degrees and speed 8.6 kts conducting mother-ship operations. The Somali pirates were urged to let the vessel go in solidarity with the people of Algeria, but still the vessel and crew are held at Ceel Caduur north of Hobyo at the Central Somali Indian Ocean coast, while negotiations have not really been forthcoming.
Algeria has now launched a formal appeal for the release of all hostages held in Africa, including the Algerians captured by Somali pirates early this year, according to Foreign Minister Mourad Medelci. When asked about the 17 Algerian sailors captured aboard the MV Blida in January, Medelci said that they were in "good condition". "The Algerian authorities are monitoring the situation and are in regular contact with them through ship owner International Bulk Carriers (IBC), who are negotiating their release," he said.
Toudji Azzedine, from the city of Dellys in Boumerdes province, was among the detained sailors. According to his family, the last communication they had with him was on May 24th. They were told that the crew were in dire conditions.
The water (being fed) is dirty, the food rancid," said Abdelkader Achour, whose brother is among the 27 captives. "We ask the Algerian authorities to intervene to speed up their release," he added. The appeal launched by Medelci came two days after the families of the hostages assembled in front of the IBC headquarters to denounce the authorities' silence regarding the sailors' fate and to demand President Abdelaziz Bouteflika's intervention to save their lives. The 80-year-old mother of Ismail Kehli, from Algiers, was among the participants. After hearing about her son's abduction, she suffered from paraplegia and was hospitalised.
"What does the minister want from this appeal?" she wondered. "Does he want to say that Algeria will not pay ransom to save the sailors and they will remain there for many years?" In June 2011 sailor Moundeer Abdul-Rahmango called on Algerian authorities to do more to pave the way for the seamen's release, saying the 17 have been facing heavy-handed and unyielding practices from Somali pirates. He made his appeal during a phone call with his family back home and said he and others hope they will be rescued before the holy Muslim month of Ramadhan, starting in August.
Relatives of 17 Algerian sailors held by pirates since January then demonstrated at the beginning of Ramadhan to demand their release, saying they feared the men would not survive Somalia's famine and the Ramadhan fast.
"Seventeen Algerian sailors spend the month of Ramadhan in Somalia, the country of famine," said a banner at a sit-in by about 30 relatives of the Algerians in central Algiers. "When we last spoke with them by telephone, on July 9, they told us that they would do the fast whatever the conditions of their detention," the brother of one of the captives, Abdelkader Achour, told AFP.
"With their being fed, when they are, with pasta and dirty water, I fear that they will return them to us in coffins," he said, also referring to temperatures of more than 50 degrees Celsius (122 Fahrenheit). The government says it is "fully mobilised" and following the matter closely. Justice Minister Tayeb Belaiz said in January that Algeria will not pay ransom, saying it encourages criminals and finances terrorism.
This speech apparently angered the pirate gang and the crew is reportedly in bad condition, while negotiations have not yet concluded. As the holy month of Ramadhan closed with Eid al Fitr celebrations in the Muslim world, the Ukrainian captain of *MV BLIDA*, held by Somali pirates since over 8 months, reached out to a humanitarian organization for help, because the crew has no more food, no medicine and no clean water.
Most of the crew suffer from high fever due to unknown infections, the captain stated, and he fears that some might have caught a Malaria while no appropriate medical help is provided. Captain Valentin stated to the regional office of ECOTERRA Intl. that he hadn't heard anything about any ongoing negotiations for their release, which allegedly were near a conclusion as the Greek management company stated to Ukrainian diplomatic offices.
ECOTERRA Intl. had already earlier appealed to the elders of the pirate gang holding this vessel to ensure that ship and crew are released without conditions. The governments of Algeria and Greece as well as the ombudsman for human rights of the Ukrainian parliament have now been informed about the grave situation of their nationals as well as the other hostages on board of that vessel in order to establish the truth concerning the efforts by the Greek management or the Algerian owner to secure the release of the vessel, because the Algerian owner's hands seem to be bound by the Algerian policy, which stands against any ransom payment, and the captain stated that he had not heard from the Greek management company for a long time (see details below). Allegedly the negotiations broke down one month ago, and family members of the Algerian seafarers among the crew held demonstrations against the inactivity of their government, while their next of kin had to observe a sad Ramadhan in a hostage situation - suffering from a crime, which is outlawed by all teachings of the Holy Quran. The MV BLIDA and her crew were then held off the North-Eastern Indian Ocean coast of Somalia between Garacad and Ceel Dhanaane, while the pirates still demanded a multi-million dollar ransom for the release.
A renewed call for help was received on 06. September 2011 from Captain Valentin as well as the Chief Officer and they described again the desperate situation of the crew and demanded help from the Greek Management company to secure the release of the vessel.
Requested by the shipowner, it then was achieved to deliver food and drinking water as well as medicine and fuel to the vessel. A critical situation on 10. September could be averted and the final arrangements for a release appeared to be underway, when suddenly the translator was fired on 08. October 2011 by the pirates - providing for a setback and further distress to the crew. Industry sources maintain that two major companies involved in the lucrative business of ransom drops and usually working out of Dubai and Nairobi try to frustrate the deals of each other by playing their respective Somali cards.
Realizing that the achieved release deal was broken by the pirates , one crew member suffered on 09. October 2011 a serious heart attack. With remote assistance from a humanitarian organization and their cardiologist the sailor could be stabilized, but due to the severity of the condition and with the consent of the pirates the sick Algerian national as well as an under-aged Ukrainian crew-member were evacuated to a naval vessel. Transferred via Djibouti the seafarer survived.
The remaining 25 crew, were still held on the vessel off Garacad, while a new release agreement.was negotiated between the Greek manager and the new negotiator for the pirates, who after an outragious increase then settled then for a more reasonable sum.
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