by Douglas B. Stevenson, Director, Center for Seafarers’ Rights
The Center for Seafarers’ Rights received information from the European Union Naval Force Somalia (EUNAVFOR) in Northwood, UK that Somali pirates released the Algerian-registered bulk carrier MV Blida from captivity on November 4, 2011. Somali hijackers captured the 20,586-ton bulk carrier, crewed by 17 Algerians, 6 Ukrainians, 2 Filipinos, 1 Jordanian and 1 Indonesian, on January 1, 2011, approximately 150 nautical miles southeast of the port of Salalah, Oman. The pirates released two of the crew, 1 Algerian and 1 Ukrainian, in October for health reasons.
In 2004, the Center for Seafarers’ Rights and the Ukrainian Consulate in New York signed a memorandum of understanding on assisting Ukrainian seafarers. SCI became involved with the MV Blida in April 2011 when the Ukrainian Ministry of Foreign Affairs requested our assistance. We immediately contacted the vessel’s managers in Greece and offered our support, and we provided them with SCI’s Guidelines on caring for seafarers affected by piracy.
SCI does not interfere with the delicate negotiations between ship operators and pirates, believing the best strategy for obtaining the crew’s release engages only one negotiator. When more than one entity tries to negotiate a crew’s release, the usual result is a delay in the release because of pirates’ hopes of gaining a higher ransom.
Like many other Somali piracy hostage cases, the pirates who held the MV Blida demonstrated that their only motivation was to obtain as high a ransom as possible. They were immune to moral and political pressure. They attempted to manipulate crewmembers’ families in a cruel attempt to extort a higher ransom.
In June 2011, the relatives of the Ukrainian crew held hostage on the MV Blida requested SCI’s advice and assistance on how to deal with their frustrations surrounding their loved ones’ lengthy captivity. The Center for Seafarers’ Rights served as a sounding board for the family members and provided them with advice based on our clinical study of the effects of piracy on seafarers. In response to one of our emails, a family wrote: “Dear Mr. Stevenson, thank you very much for your message, which is greatly appreciated. To tell you the truth, you are one of the only people who react immediately on our appeal and misfortune.” In September, the Rev. David M. Rider and I met with some of these families in Odessa, Ukraine.
We rejoice with all those who have been praying for the MV Blida’s crewmembers’ release.