x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Activist Ansar Burney to try to free hijacked UAE ship's crew

Human rights activist is heading to Dubai next week in an effort to help free the crew of the MV Iceberg I from pirates.

The Iceberg’s third officer, Jaswinder Singh, 26, has been held captive with 23 other crewmen for 16 months. His wife, Nirmal, 23, holds their son Abhimanyu, 2, alongside Jaswinder’s brother Rigan.
The Iceberg’s third officer, Jaswinder Singh, 26, has been held captive with 23 other crewmen for 16 months. His wife, Nirmal, 23, holds their son Abhimanyu, 2, alongside Jaswinder’s brother Rigan.

DUBAI // A human rights activist who helped win the release last month of a ship hijacked by Somali pirates plans to try next week to do the same for a vessel owned by a Dubai-based firm.

Ansar Burney, a British-based Pakistani lawyer, helped arrange a US$2.1 million (Dh7.7m) ransom to free the MV Suez, whose 23-man crew had been held for 10 months until their release in late June.

The two dozen crewmen on the Iceberg have been captive for even longer, 16 months, making it one of the longest-running Somali hijackings.

Mr Burney plans to meet representatives from Azal Shipping, which owns the Iceberg, in Dubai next week. If asked to assist, he said: “I will definitely come forward and help.”

Azal Shipping declined to comment. It has said over the past year that negotiations were ongoing but declined to elaborate.

The Iceberg is crewed by nine Yemenis, six Indians, four Ghanaians, two Pakistanis, two Sudanese and a Filipino.

After visiting Dubai, Mr Burney plans to meet families of the crew in India, and then begin soliciting funds from private donors.

Indian relatives of the Iceberg and Suez crews held a press conference yesterday urging him to intervene.

As conditions on the Iceberg have deteriorated in recent months, the crews’ families have made several appeals to him and to the Indian government. The released Suez crew said a second sailor had died on-board the Iceberg, while families of the crew reported stories of pirates beating crewmen.

“They hang them on a rope and beat them on their hands and legs,” said Sunita Tiwari, from India. She had been told that by her hostage brother Dheeraj in a phone call last month, she said. Food, water and medicine were running low, she said. “They are not mentally fine.”

Two Suez crew members and the Kenyan piracy monitoring group Ecoterra say the chief engineer of the Iceberg died earlier this year, which is refuted by Azal.

The sailors, who said their ship was anchored near the Iceberg in Somali waters, said they had heard from their captors.

Ecoterra said its information came from a third Suez crew member and food suppliers who had boarded the Iceberg.

One of the Iceberg crewmen died of malnutrition last October.

Yesterday, the relatives made an emotional appeal to Mr Burney to use similar means to those that freed the Suez. Families have intermittently received phone calls over the past year and a half, regularly at first, but less so of late.

When Man Singh Mohite received the last phone call from his 24-year-old son Ganesh Mohite in early June, all his son said was: “Papa, please get me out of here.”

“Those words are still ringing in my ears,” said Mr Man Singh. “That is all I hear now. My son’s plea for help.

“There is no power supply, there is a lack of food and this has gone on for too long.”

Rigan Singh, the brother of the ship’s third officer, Jaswinder Singh, 26, from the Indian state of Haryana, said he waited for sporadic phone calls from his brother.

The families said they spent a lot of money training the men to get jobs in Dubai, often leasing and selling ancestral property in India.  Dada Sahib Jadhav, the father of Swapnil Jadhav, from the Indian state of Maharashtra, sold three acres of land to fund his son’s education in Chennai to enable him to get a general practitioner’s diploma in the navy and find work overseas.

“I spent the money because I knew I was creating a secure future for him,” said Mr Jadhav.

Purshotam Tiwari, who is retired from the military, also educated his son, Dhiraj, 23, who wanted to be a sailor.

He said his son had not told him the ship was bound for Aden, perhaps because Mr Tiwari had raised objections about sailing to Somalia.

Mr Tiwari said he felt invigorated after hearing that Mr Burney would negotiate on their behalf.

“The Indian government should step in and help our sons,” he said. “But this is beyond them. We have been asking for so long but nothing has happened.”

Mr Burney urged governments worldwide to do more to rescue those kidnapped at sea, contrasting their lack of response to the immediate action taken when planes are hijacked.

“Why this discrimination?” said Mr Burney. “We would like to ask the governments to take strong action, like if there were any hijackings of any planes.”

chuang@thenational.ae

sbhattacharya@thenational.ae