x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Hijacked ships still in pirates' hands, but negotiations are on 'in earnest'

Negotiations continue for the release of two UAE-linked vessels and their crews nearly six months after they were sea-jacked by pirates.

DUBAI // Negotiations continue for the release of two UAE-linked vessels and their crews nearly six months after they were sea-jacked by pirates. The MV Iceberg I and MV Rak Afrikana were taken in March and April, respectively. According to a status report issued by Ecoterra International - a Kenya-based non-governmental organisation that monitors piracy - negotiations for the release of MV Iceberg I, a UAE-owned, Panama-flagged vessel, recently began "in earnest, but have not been concluded".

The 24-man crew - made up of nine Yemenis, six Indians, four Ghanians, two Sudanese, two Pakistanis and one Filipino - recently received food and water supplies through "local elders and a humanitarian group" after requesting assistance. According to the NGO's report, the sailors had no more food, water or medicines on board the ship, but were not suffering from any "serious health condition". It also claims that the ship is not insured and that the cargo owner is now in charge of negotiations.

The vessel, which was carrying generators, transformers and empty fuel tanks, is anchored off the coast of Somalia and guarded by 50 pirates. MV Iceberg I was seized in March in the Gulf of Aden, and pirates repainted its name as Sea Express. In May, officers aboard the US navy destroyer McFaul sighted the vessel and followed it for 36 hours to the coast of Somalia, before returning to normal duties.

Ecoterra International, which has been working in Somalia since 1986, said negotiations are also "ongoing" for the safe release of the MV Rak Afrikana, a general-cargo vessel that was seized on April 11 approximately 280 nautical miles west of the Seychelles. The 7,561-tonne ship - licensed in St Vincent and operated from RAK with a 26-man crew from India, Pakistan and Tanzania - had left the Seychelles three days earlier bound for Tanzania. It is being held in an area that Ecoterra officials say is difficult for the organisation's maritime and marine monitors to access.

Meanwhile, two other UAE-linked ships, the MV Leila and the MV Mariam, continue to be held under court order at the Somaliland port of Berbera because of an alleged legal dispute between Somaliland authorities, cargo owners and the shipowner. The vessels have been there since September 15, but both crews are said to be safe. Shipowners in the UAE were reluctant to comment on the report yesterday, expressing concern that it could jeopardise negotiations.

loatway@thenational.ae