February 17, 2011


In line with similar laws across the world, Section 299 of the Indian Penal Code defines “culpable homicide” thus: "Whoever causes death by doing an act with the intention of causing death, or with the intention of causing such bodily injury as is likely to cause death, or with the knowledge that he is likely by such act to cause death, commits the offence of culpable homicide."

I now accuse the international community- and their trigger happy navies- of culpable homicide in connection with the murder of innocent mariners. They sure as hell had knowledge that their acts were likely to cause death; they are not that incompetent.

I accuse them of criminal negligence that has resulted in the barbaric torture of seamen (BIMCO’s words, not mine) - including savage keelhauling, beatings, threats of execution and such assorted outrages. I accuse them of knowingly and deliberately putting seamen’s lives at risk by their calculated escalation of violence when dealing with hijacked or mother ships, shooting crew- human shields or not- and otherwise gambling with mariner lives at risk with full foreknowledge of inevitable fatal consequences.

And I accuse the UN, the IMO and the wider maritime industry- that loves to propagate warm theories about its family of seafarers- of being accessories to murder and the torture of their claimed brothers. I accuse them of playing their power and commercial games with dice loaded against the seamen without whom they would not exist.

We have gone beyond callousness and insensibility. We have reached cold-bloodedness, simulated outrage at recent events by BIMCO, INTERTANKO, the IMO and other such acronyms notwithstanding.

The torture and murder I mention is not in dispute any longer; I wish I could take some pleasure in the fact that I saw it coming, but I am too disgusted to do that. The torture and murder – as described- has been acknowledged by the top commander of the European Union’s Naval Force, Maj. Gen. Buster Howes, who says that the torture of seamen by pirates is ‘systematic and regular’. Amongst the keelhauling and the beatings, "If warships approached a pirated ship too closely, the pirates would drag hostages on deck and beat them in front of naval officers until the warship went away,” Howes says. Note that he speaks in the past tense, so all this mayhem has been going on awhile, during which everybody has been speaking with a forked tongue. Meanwhile, pirates have tied hostages upside down and dragged them in the sea, locked them in freezers, beaten them and used plastic ties around their genitals.

Everybody knows this. Why then, does the Indian navy repeatedly fire and sink mother ships (the first one, if I recall correctly, was in 2008 when a Thai fishing trawler was sunk, with several crew reported missing, presumably killed) putting hostage lives knowingly and repeatedly at risk? In the most recent incident this month, the mother ship Prantalay 11 was fired at by the Indian navy’s ‘Cankarso’ in ‘self defence’ off the Lakshadweep Islands, the navy says. (Self defence? A naval ship needs to defend itself against small arms fire in a hostage situation by shooting at the hostages, many of whom had to jump in the water?). What the navy doesn’t say, in any case, is that we will never know if any hostages were killed or injured in the shootout and by whom. Crew in other incidents have jumped or been thrown into the water by pirates as naval ships approached. Meanwhile the pirates have been brought to India and charged. Mainstream media is all excited about the navy’s success. They are heroes guarding our coastline. The charade is complete.

The saga of the Beluga Nomination, including the cold blooded execution of a crewmember by irate pirates after a Seychelles patrol boat fired on the hijacked ship, does not need to be detailed; it is part of the same well simulated outrage that has spewed out from all quarters after the event. There is less outrage at the fact that the entire crew spent more than two days in a ‘citadel’ with no rescue and before they were taken, or that two others are still missing. Beluga officials are said to be ‘incandescent with rage’ at the naval actions. Join the club, gentlemen.

Even lesser publicised is the fact that the Captain of the Samho Jewelry, said to have been shot by the pirates in the stomach as the South Korean Navy was engaged in a five hour operation to ‘rescue’ the ship, was in a coma for a week and a half as a direct result of that action. And, not that it matters, but one of the bullets recovered from his body was fired by a Korean commando. Another recovered bullet is mysteriously missing. A crew lost a few teeth in beatings by pirates, either before or during the raid. The Captain and other senior officers were frequently beaten with pirates shouting “Kill.”

Other navies- both western and eastern- have been similarly culpable. The Malaysians who put crew’s life at risk in a similar rescue operation. The Danes, who probably contributed to the Nomination’s crewmember’s execution with their close proximity. The Russians, whose brutal treatment of Somali pirates has been hardly criticised and must be at least partly responsible for the escalation in violence.

The world would have me believe, washing seafarer blood off its hands with all the perfumes of Arabia, that increasing ransom amounts have resulted in more hard core gangs having taken over the piracy business. Rubbish to that red herring. Rubbish to that specious argument; the criminals are on both sides of the fence.

The fact is that the citadel recommendation put out by incompetent suits- that we knew was going to escalate matters and kill seamen (see ‘Citadels in the sand’ here, published three months ago) have done exactly that. The fact is that Somali pirates make a few hundred million dollars, maximum, in ransoms annually: the legitimate world rakes in up to twelve billion from the business of piracy. The fact is that navies are being pressurised by their masters to do something, and those masters are being pressurised sometimes by commercial interests- as an example, Samho had reportedly paid a staggering 9.5 million dollars a couple of months ago for another ship; rumours say that Korean ships are being targeted by pirates. Did this decide the Jewelry affair? Another example: the Indians are now openly talking of suspected Pakistani terrorist links with pirates. Is that why the Indian navy is reacting with lethal force, or is it because it is rattled that the entire southwest coast of the country is now a war zone? Whatever, some navies have obviously been given a licence to kill. The crew is seen as collateral damage. Seamen, as usual, are seen as expendable by everybody.

The fact is that INTERTANKO says that piracy is spinning out of control, but it says this after a VLCC is hijacked off Oman and the pirates are knocking on the doors of the Straits of Hormuz. We are inundated with figures of 2 million barrels of oil aboard this ship and its 200 million dollar worth. The profanity that mariners have had to undergo for so long has no such ‘out of control’ spin- the risk to their lives brought about directly as a consequence of the actions of the world’s navies and the actions of the industry does not matter. Their lives are priceless or valueless: take your pick.

There is another disturbing element to all this: a Master is usually dependant on information gained from either the radio or the management or from communication with setups like EUNAVFOR whilst at sea, given that unlimited internet browsing is hardly freely available at sea today to the majority of seamen. He is otherwise cut off from information that is directly relevant to the safety of his crew and ship.

The problem is this. Global media hardly covers piracy except isolated, sensationalised incidents. The management, EUNAVFOR and such will no doubt propagate Best Management Practices blindly and with impunity, even if one or two of these practices are directly responsible for the murder of seamen or of putting them at the mercy of enraged pirates and increased risk of torture and death. Having sailed on a fixed run between Tanzania, Kenya, Sudan and Yemen a few years ago when piracy was very much a concern but hardly at the present scale, I can tell you that information is tough to come by as it is. When the entire information one is getting is from incompetent parties, or those with other agendas, or those with scant regard for your life, or those who are accessories to the murder of other seamen, then the crew have no information and no friends.

Then, if the crew is unarmed, they are sitting ducks for the pirates. Worse, they will not know which trigger happy navy is around the corner waiting to fire on them once they are taken hostage, or when they will be taken out on the bridge wing to be human shields, or beaten, or keelhauled, or shot, or have their genitals tied with plastic ties, or other fun stuff.

Maybe I should add ‘criminal conspiracy’ to my list of accusations against the international- and maritime-community, such as it unfortunately is.

Postscript: Between the time of writing and publication of this piece in marexbulletin, Jacob Stolt Neilsen, the now geriatric Norwegian shipping magnate, says that pirates that the navies of the world encounter should be executed on the spot. Acknowledging that there would be backlash against hostage crews with this course of action, he nonetheless says, "But you can't make an omelette without breaking eggs. This is war and warfare costs lives."

Come sail with me, Mr. Stolt-Nielsen. Let us see what happens when your eggs are on the line.



Paul, Dammit! said...

Thank you so much for providing a voice of reason on this issue. Today's completely unnecessary slaughter of a hostage sailboat crew by the US Navy was a very sad example of the end result of such heavy handedness. The fact that the deceased were American citizens may be a wake up call if any of our newspapers will actually be able to note that it was 'friendly fire' that both started and ended the tragedy.

manu said...

My heart goes out to the families of those innocent folk.

I guess it will take a few days for details to become known, but it will be doubly tragic if friendly fire was responsible the killings.

But even if it was not, the escalation of violence is a direct consequence of recent naval actions, which must stop at once. Do they go bumbling in shooting from the hip when an airliner gets hijacked?

Perhaps the US authorities thought, after the Maersk Alabama incident, that rescues were easy.