Monday, June 27, 2011

Ledger of death

Last week, Reuters cited a claim by the advocacy group Save Our Seafarers that 62 mariners have been killed, either directly or indirectly, by Somali pirates since 2007. In truth, I was skeptical of this number; though grisly incidents like the February 2011 executions of four American yachters aboard the S/V Quest are bound to stick in one's mind, the steady litany of deaths resulting from mistreatment, disease, and malnutrition tend not to make it into the headlines. So, my thanks to Compass Risk Management for diligently verifying the figure:

Vessel Name Date of Hijack Duration (Days)Number Dead
Ching Fong Hwa 168 28/4/08 191 1
Victoria 19/5/07 n/a 1
Bunga Melati Dua 19/8/08 41 1
Faina 25/9/08 133 1
Action 10/10/08 63 1
Ekawat Nava 5 18/11/08 n/a 15
Sea Princess II 3/1/09 113 1
Tanit 4/4/09 6 1
Win Far 161 6/4/09 311 3
GNA 26/4/09 n/a 1
Marathon 7/5/09 47 1
Theresa VII 16/11/09 120 1
Iceberg 1 28/3/10 439 (ongoing) 1
Jih-chun Tsai no 68 30/3/10 417 1
Rak Africana 11/4/10 333 1
Prantaly 11 18/4/10 293 1
Prantaly 14 18/4/10 285 6
QSM Dubai 2/6/10 1 1
Polar 30/10/10224 (ongoing) 2
Sirichainava II 2/11/10 35
Vega 530/12/10729
Beluga Nominaiton22/1/11 823

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


  1. It doesnt really seem fair to attribute the 15 killed by the Indian Navy on the Ekawat Nava as being directly or indirectly killed by Pirates. That was clearly a misuse of violence by anti-piracy forces.

    Still - it is alarming that half of all deaths have occurred in the last year.

    Interesting that the Save Our Seafarers campaign is run by a group of mainly ship owners and insurers. Kind of feels like they are using the sailors plight as a prop in order to push for a more dramatic intl approach to piracy that would serve their economic interests.

  2. Yes, the Indian Navy has a reputation for being particularly bloodthirsty. Funny thing is, even the Somali pirates think so...

    As for SoS... naturally they want to bring an end to piracy. To do so in the economic interest of the entire world, save perhaps Somalia itself. Don't think the're doing anything disingenuous... the 62 killed figure is valid.