|Vessel Name||Date of Hijack||Duration (Days)||Number Dead†|
|Ching Fong Hwa 168||28/4/08||191||1|
|Bunga Melati Dua||19/8/08||41||1|
|Ekawat Nava 5||18/11/08||n/a||15|
|Sea Princess II||3/1/09||113||1|
|Win Far 161||6/4/09||311||3|
|Iceberg 1||28/3/10||439 (ongoing)||1|
|Jih-chun Tsai no 68||30/3/10||417||1|
One entry on this ledger of death drew my attention: the Dutch-owned cargo ship MV Marathon, which was hijacked on May 7, 2009 while transporting coke fuel through the Gulf of Aden "safety" corridor. During my second trip to Somalia, in June 2009, I encountered the gang responsible for hijacking of the Marathon in the coastal village of Dhanane, in whose harbour, a few stone's throws from the precipitous bluff overlooking a white sand beach, the Marathon was anchored.
In a poorly-lit leanto in the centre of the village, I met a man dressed in rumpled brown khakis named Dar Muse Gaben, who I soon learned was the gang's logistics officer, responsible for keeping the gang supplied with food and, more importantly, khat. It became apparent that Gaben took his job very seriously, for he soon left to fetch a round of warm 7-Ups and cups of sweet tea for me and my translator. Gaben jokingly quipped about how he kept the Marathon's Ukrainian hostages so well fed that they had become overweight. "Let me tell you," he said, "they like it better on that ship than in the Ukraine." I only discovered later that the ship's welder, Serhiy Vartenkov, had been accidentally shot and killed during the boarding operation; the cook, Georgi Gussakov, had also taken a stray bullet and was in critical condition by the time the Marathon was ransomed. The pirates had concealed the casualties during the negotiation process in order to maximize their payoff.
If there's anything positive in the above figures, it is that the pirates rarely murder hostages deliberately; of the 62 total deaths, just seven have been executions (in fact, by far the biggest single loss of life was caused by the notoriously sanguinary Indian navy, which in late 2008 mistakenly blew the Thai fishing vessel Ekawat Nava 5 out of the water). Yet there is little doubt that the pirates are getting more violent, a trend supported by the fact that half the above fatalities have occurred over the last year. Furthermore, lengthening captivity periods mean that malnutrition, illness, and psychological stress (to date, two hostages have committed suicide) are likely to contribute to an even greater body count going forward.
†A more detailed description of each case is available in the following report.