Ordeal ends for Lankan Seamen

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By 2017-03-19

By Sulochana Ramiah Mohan 

On Monday last week (13) the European Union Naval Force, the counter piracy task force that operates off the coast of Somalia said they received confirmation from the captain of the Comoros-flagged tanker, Aris 13, that his vessel had been hijacked along with eight crew members and is been held captive by a number of armed Somali pirates in an anchorage off the north coast of Puntland, close to Alula, Somalia. However, the eight-member all Sri Lankan crew were finally released after a four day ordeal without paying a ransom or being harmed, which the government says was possible after intervening with pure diplomacy, negotiations and support carried out by all parties locally and internationally.

The eight Sri Lankan seamen are still at the Bosaso Harbour in Puntland Ceylon Today learns. Their families in Sri Lanka were informed that they may not return to the country as yet, but would continue with their voyage with other shipments and probably would only return back home should they sail to Somalia with a fresh cargo.

The ordeal

The eight men boarded the Aris 13, last December from the Colombo Port. Their journey was to a Dubai port to load a shipment of oil that was to be later unloaded in Djibouti in Somalia. The tanker is owned by Armi Shipping SA, a company based in the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

Their voyage began somewhere in mid January to Somalia but, before reaching Djibouti, in the north coast of Puntland, close to Alula, the ship was hijacked and the men on board were taken captive by the Somali pirates.

The EU Naval Force stated in a press release that the attack came shortly after the vessel's captain issued a mayday alert to say that two skiffs (small boats) were closing in on his ship in the Gulf of Aden.

The EU Naval Force on receiving the mayday alert dispatched a maritime patrol aircraft from its base in Djibouti to overfly the tanker and make radio contact with the ship's captain S. A. Nicholas who is from Mattakuliya.

The EU Naval Force website noted that despite tailing the ship several times, no contact was made and the situation on board remained unclear until 14 March afternoon, when the EU Naval Force operational HQ in London was able to make telephone contact with the ship's captain.

The website also noted that the captain confirmed that armed men were on board at his ship and they were demanding a ransom for the ship's release.

The EU naval force had then passed on this information to the ship's owner and continued to monitor the situation.

When the news broke of their loved ones being taken hostage by pirates, the families panicked and did not know whom to turn to because the ship was not sailing under a Sri Lankan flag and therefore the government had no mandate to intervene.

When the crew was going through the ordeal on board the vessel and even forced to share their food with the pirates Chief Officer Premnath Ruwan Sampath managed to contact his family on Thursday 16 March, and urged the government to intervene, saying their lives were danger.

Namali Makalandawa, the sister of the Chief Officer told Ceylon Today, "Initially all communication was cut off but on Thursday, 16 March, my brother who was allowed to speak with the family, said the pirates had demanded a ransom of US$ 8 million for their release and gave a deadline of one hour.

The families rushed to the Foreign Ministry to seek help and they assured their fullest support. "The Foreign Ministry had instantly contacted the Sri Lankan Ambassador in Ethiopia Sumith Dassanayake and Ambassador to the UAE. S. J. Mohideen to seek whatever assistance from their governments to free the hostages even while the International Maritime Coast Guards were monitoring the ship in Puntland.

The UAE Ambassador had personally visited the Aurora Ship Management to gather more information on the ship and its voyage to Somalia.

Later on, in the wee hours of 18 March, at about 1.32 a.m. the news arrived that they were released after the President of Puntland, the semi-autonomous region of Somalia, and his Chief of Staff Abdinasir Sofe, had secured the release of the vessel and crew. Combined Maritime Force, a 41 nation gathering based in the UAE and led by an American Admiral, also intervened towards this end.

The Operation Commander of the EU Naval Force, Major General Rob Magowan CBE, said after the release that the Sri Lankan seamen and the tanker were en route to a safe port on the north coast of Somalia after the armed pirates had departed from the ship.

It is also reported that the Puntland Maritime Police Force assisted with the ship's release and are currently on board the vessel.
Major General Rob Magowan noted on their official website: "Thankfully the crew are now safe, but this attack clearly demonstrated that Somali pirates still have the intent and capability to get out to sea. As I have stated previously, it is crucial that vessel remains vigilant in the Indian Ocean and stay within the Internationally Recommended Transit Corridor as they transit the Gulf of Aden."

It was a humanitarian
intervention by GoSL – Executive Director
Ceylon Shipping Corporation

Expert on sea and maritime law and Executive Director Ceylon Shipping Corporation Dr. Dan Malika Gunaratne revealed that out of the eight Sri Lankan seamen, only five informed the Director General's Office of Merchant Shipping that they are at sea. The other three had not informed about their voyage. The advantage of informing the director general's office is, when in trouble, they could be assisted with, noted Dr. Gunaratne

Dr. Gunaratne who is also a visiting lecturer for many international universities on maritime law told Ceylon Today that this particular ship Aris 13 had taken the risk to go pass Puntland and this region is a risk zone.

He noted the Somalian pirates not only operate in this area but in many war risk zones in the region and the crew should avoid taking such risks routes.

He noted that since the tanker was on its way to Debouti it may have taken the closest route to Puntland.

"International vessels must stay within the Internationally Recommended Transit Corridor. Every ship follows that rule unless a ship opts to take the 'risk', he noted.

Ships should not enter war risk zones especially in the Somalian region, and he noted that Somali pirates in their peak days, way back in 2011 had been hijacking ships claiming ransoms.

He also noted some shipping lines pay high wages or additional payment for crew if they take the war risk sea routes.

He also noted it would be advisable that if the ship is taking the 'risk' route then it should have Sea Marshalls and the maritime security on board. "Of course this is very costly."

Do shipping companies ever reveal the ransom paid to the pirates? "No. Firstly, it is illegal to give a ransom and it is also not good for the trade. Secondly, if the shipping company reveals the amount paid to the pirates, it might encourage other pirates."

He also noted if the ransom amount is revealed it will expose the financial status of the shipping line. "What made these pirates not take a ransom is unclear. Sometimes the company may have paid a ransom. I am not sure. Even if they had given a ransom that will never be disclosed," Dr. Gunaratne said.

It was a humanitarian intervention by GoSL – Executive Director Ceylon Shipping Corporation

Expert on sea and maritime law and Executive Director Ceylon Shipping Corporation Dr. Dan Malika Gunaratne revealed that out of the eight Sri Lankan seamen, only five informed the Director General's Office of Merchant Shipping that they are at sea. The other three had not informed about their voyage. The advantage of informing the director general's office is, when in trouble, they could be assisted with, noted Dr. Gunaratne
Dr. Gunaratne who is also a visiting lecturer for many international universities on maritime law told Ceylon Today that this particular ship Aris 13 had taken the risk to go pass Puntland and this region is a risk zone.

He noted the Somalian pirates not only operate in this area but in many war risk zones in the region and the crew should avoid taking such risks routes.

He noted that since the tanker was on its way to Debouti it may have taken the closest route to Puntland.

"International vessels must stay within the Internationally Recommended Transit Corridor. Every ship follows that rule unless a ship opts to take the 'risk', he noted.

Ships should not enter war risk zones especially in the Somalian region, and he noted that Somali pirates in their peak days, way back in 2011 had been hijacking ships claiming ransoms.

He also noted some shipping lines pay high wages or additional payment for crew if they take the war risk sea routes.
He also noted it would be advisable that if the ship is taking the 'risk' route then it should have Sea Marshalls and the maritime security on board. "Of course this is very costly."

Do shipping companies ever reveal the ransom paid to the pirates? "No. Firstly, it is illegal to give a ransom and it is also not good for the trade. Secondly, if the shipping company reveals the amount paid to the pirates, it might encourage other pirates." He also noted if the ransom amount is revealed it will expose the financial status of the shipping line. "What made these pirates not take a ransom is unclear. Sometimes the company may have paid a ransom. I am not sure. Even if they had given a ransom that will never be disclosed," Dr. Gunaratne said.

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