The human cost of piracy around the shores of Somalia can be understood from the desperation in the voices of relatives of hostages from the MT Royal Grace.
The Dubai-based chemical tanker was hijacked in March off the coast of Oman as it sailed from Sharjah to Nigeria. All 22 crew members, comprising citizens of India, Nigeria, Pakistan and Bangladesh, were taken and have been held ever since.
The pirates have demanded a ransom of US$2 million (Dh7.3 million), but as yet the families have not been able to raise the money. They are getting desperate. Today is the deadline set by the pirates. As The National reports on its pages, a family member has described receiving a phone-call from the captors warning that if the money is not paid immediately "they will start on the men, one by one".
Already one man has died, due to lack of medication. Relatives of some of the men held gathered in New Delhi to pressure India's government, but ministers do not sound optimistic.
The true victims of maritime piracy - a global epidemic that costs shippers an estimated $12 billion annually - are the seamen themselves. These flesh and blood engines of the shipping industry are often the last ones to be considered when pirates strike. The MT Royal Grace is just one of nine ships - and 154 seamen - currently held by pirates, according to statistics from the International Maritime Bureau. Piracy in the Indian Ocean has levelled off in the past year, but the UN Security Council has warned that attacks are nonetheless getting more violent.
The UAE has been at the forefront of antipiracy measures, regionally and internationally. This is due to the country's proximity to waterways particularly affected by piracy, but also due to the country's role as a hub for shipping.
In May this year, a federal court in Abu Dhabi sentenced 10 Somali pirates to life imprisonment and deportation. The pirates had taken the MV Arrilah, owned by the Abu Dhabi National Tanker Company, in April 2011, as it was on its way from Australia to Jebel Ali in Dubai. In a dramatic rescue, UAE armed forces supported by the US Fifth Fleet carried out a rescue operation in the Arabian Sea, freeing the crew. The UAE has also funded a Dh55 million Coast Guard base in the Seychelles.
The sailors from the MT Royal Grace and their families are not wealthy people. They do taxing jobs in conditions of great hardship. It should be for the national governments to come together with shipping companies and find solutions to safeguard the lives of their citizens. We can only hope that, despite the cruel deadline imposed by the pirates, the crew are able to return home soon to their families. That will only happen, however, if their pleas no longer fall on deaf ears at home.