The Somali pirates who hijacked Asphalt Venture, an asphalt/bitumen tanker employing Indian crew off the coast of Dar Es Salaam two years ago, continue to hold in captivity seven crew-six officers and one seaman-saying they will not be released until their own men have been released from Indian jails.
The 1991-built 3884-dwt tanker flying Panama flag employed a total of 15-crew. Eight of them were released in April 2011 following payment of ransom. The release of seven others has been withheld pending the release of convicted pirates held in India. A Korean company owns the vessel.
OMCI Ship Management, the tanker’s Mumbai-based ship management agency, it is learnt, tried through a third-party negotiator to persuade the pirates to release the seven crew members still held in captivity but not with much success.
Meanwhile, Alastair Evitt, chairman of SOS SaveOurSeafarers, has been quoted as saying in the Shipping Gazette, “The management company and insurers have kept their side of the agreement and are powerless to do any more. We believe that no government is likely to submit to this sort of blackmail, that bowing to such pressure and releasing lawfully convicted prisoners in order to secure the freedom of these hostages would set a catastrophic precedent and could open the floodgates to an upsurge of criminal hostage-taking”.
“Our campaign’s aim is to eradicate Somali piracy in the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean. We believe this can be done in a number of ways: increasing the strength of naval forces patrolling the Gulf of Aden and Western Indian Ocean; ensuring that pirates will face trial when captured and seeking a sustainable political solution to the underlying problems in Somalia.”
According to the International Maritime Bureau, the Somali pirates have hijacked 212 seafarers and 13 ships so far this year, with another 58 attempted attacks.
Till date, a total of 171 seafarers are being held hostage by Somali pirates, including four merchant vessels with 88 crew, seven fishing boats with another 4 crew and 29 seafarers held ashore with no ships.