x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

'They cut his ears off' - deep scars for freed hostages of Dubai ship

Memories of the brutality unleashed by Somali pirates and the trauma of seeing shipmates tortured and driven to suicide have left the 22 hostages recently freed from Dubai's MV Iceberg 1 with psychological scars.

Mohamad Abdalla Ali, a Yemeni sailor, whose ears were slashed by the Somali pirates. He is being given medical care and will need further treatment. Courtesy of Mohamad Abdirahman, PMPF director.
Mohamad Abdalla Ali, a Yemeni sailor, whose ears were slashed by the Somali pirates. He is being given medical care and will need further treatment. Courtesy of Mohamad Abdirahman, PMPF director.

DUBAI // Memories of the brutality unleashed by Somali pirates and the trauma of seeing shipmates tortured and driven to suicide have left the 22 hostages recently freed from the MV Iceberg 1 with psychological scars.

There were 24 sailors on board when the Dubai-owned cargo ship was hijacked on March 29, 2010. Twenty two were rescued last Sunday by the Puntland Maritime Police Force (PMPF) following a 13-day siege of the ship.

The freed hostages have told their rescuers harrowing stories of the physical and mental abuse they were subjected to.

The crew said they were not allowed to sleep at night, often trussed up with ropes and left hanging upside down.

One Yemeni sailor, suffering from depression, jumped overboard in October 2010 after being constantly taunted by the pirates.

"They kept telling him they would take out his kidney and his heart," said Swapnil Jadhav, 25, a freed Iceberg seaman from western India. "He got scared and was depressed so when he saw a helicopter overhead, he jumped into the water and died."

At the time, the ship's Yemeni owners had said the sailor died due to malnutrition.

Mohamad Abdirahman, PMPF director, said the crew had told a different story.

"It was too stressful for him with the pirates constantly saying they would kill him and so he jumped," Mr Abdirahman said. "They kept the body in the freezer for sometime and then threw it into the sea."

The 24th sailor, Indian chief officer Dhiraj Tiwari, has not been seen since September 8, 2011.

The violence escalated that month after the pirates ran the ship aground on the northern coast of Puntland.

Mr Jadhav said the pirates targeted Mr Tiwari because he stepped forward to protect them.

"They always beat him the most," he recalled.

"If we turned to look they would beat us more. We had to keep our head down when the beating started and not look around or they would not stop hitting us."

Apart from being repeatedly beaten, they were also routinely starved.

"The pirates tortured them and would then make them call their family and the owner," said Mr Abdirahman.

"They cut the ears off of one old Yemeni sailor. He is OK now but will need a few operations. They also shot over their heads, hit them so hard that many have lost their teeth, whipped them with sticks and wires and tied them up and left them in the sun."

Jon Bamford, the managing director of Unity SPS, a maritime security company based in Dubai, said: "It's the mental trauma that will last because the physical trauma they will get over in time.

"It's also difficult for them to talk about all they have gone through. They will need careful counselling, love and attention from their families - and a lot of patience."

Mr Abdirahman said the freed men had fresh concerns now about providing for their family.

"They are very emotional and sad," he said. "They have not received their salary for three years and that is a big worry. In the future they will need careful care."

Most of the families have been through trying times in the absence of their breadwinner.

Francis Koomson Jr, the son of a Ghanaian hostage, said the years had taken a particular toll on his mother. "She has been suffering emotional trauma and it's difficult for us to cope," he said.

"Counselling is expensive but we know our father will need support and as a family we will come together to help."

There are 119 people still being held hostage by Somali pirates aboard eight ships and another 23 sailors are being held ashore, according to the International Maritime Bureau.

Mr Bamford said these men should not be forgotten.

"It's important we also don't lose sight of those being held captive and the worry that their families have in their minds all the time."

rtalwar@thenational.ae