DUBAI // Fathers of six Indian crewmen whose UAE-owned ship was hijacked last March say they will start a hunger strike outside the home of India's prime minister after months of appeals for government help failed.
The six men plan to fly from as far as Kerala and Mumbai to New Delhi to plead for help in the release of the MV Iceberg I.
The small ship, owned by the Dubai-based Azal Shipping, is one of the longest-held vessels off the coast of Somalia. One of its 24 crewman died in captivity of malnutrition last October.
Speaking by phone from Mumbai, Mansing Mittal Mohite, whose 24-year-old son Ganesh is trapped on the vessel, said: "Until someone listens to us, we will not move from the prime minister's house. I would have never dreamt something like this would happen."
Azal Shipping seems to have stopped negotiating, said Mr Mohite. Nor, he added, has it sent the salaries to the crewmen's families as is customary in the industry.
"We want our children more than the money, but we have got nothing from the company," he said. "Someone must take responsibility."
Azal Shipping declined repeated requests to comment.
The families have repeatedly petitioned top Indian authorities for help. They said they have pressured Azal Shipping to resume negotiations, but had not received replies.
They sought an audience with the prime minister Manmohan Singh and sent letters to him and the Indian President Pratibha Patil as well as other officials.
"We haven't got any response from the Indian government. Nobody is helping us. We are almost hopeless," said Sunita Tiwari, whose brother Dheeraj, 25, is on the MV Iceberg I.
Her family of five used to rely on her brother's income but now depend on his father's less-substantial pension, she said, speaking by phone from Pune. Her father has retired from the army, her mother stays at home, and she and her sister are students.
"Many of the crew members belong to poor families," she said.
Ms Tiwari only learnt of the hijacking after calling Azal Shipping because her brother had not phoned for a few weeks, as he usually did, she said.
She then notified the rest of the Indian families.
Mr Mohite said he last heard from Ganesh, the eldest of his three sons, last October. Ganesh asked his father to work urgently for their release as they were running low on food and water.
The other crew members on the MV Iceberg I come from Yemen, Ghana, Sudan, Pakistan and the Philippines.
Somali pirates have in the past year spread well beyond the Gulf of Aden, which is now patrolled by several warships. Instead of using small boats, they now use "mother ships" - presumed to be hijacked vessels - to reach the Arabian Sea and Indian Ocean.
So far this year they have seized seven ships and 148 hostages, for a total of 33 ships and 758 hostages, according to the International Maritime Bureau's Piracy Reporting Centre.
Nine of those ships belonged to UAE shipping firms or were seized en route to or from the Emirates. A tenth, the Korean tanker MV Samho Jewellery, was captured last month and then freed by a South Korean warship.
The expanding piracy threat has the shipping industry increasingly worried. Several executives gathered yesterday for a two-day international conference in Dubai to discuss options to combat piracy.