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Four Sri Lankan merchant sailors still missing

2013 Jul 26

By Manjula Fernando

Third Engineer of MV Albedo, C.Perera who is from Yakkala

Priyani Udugamasuriya of Yakkala said that her 59- year- old husband, Chandrasena Perera who is a seasoned seafarer with 30 years experience. He was the third engineer on the ill- fated MV Albedo. The Malaysian flagged ship, seized by Somali pirates on November 26, 2010 with 23 crew including six Sri Lankans, sank off the Somali coast two weeks ago.

Had it not been for the inconsistent attitude of the Malaysian owner, who swayed between 'yes' and 'no' for so long, reluctant to pay up the $ 2.28 million ransom (brought down from $ 4 million), their ordeal would have ended long ago.

Four of the six Lankan sailors have gone missing since the ship which had been taking in water due to a leak, finally sank, 14 nautical miles off Somali coast on Saturday July 6 evening due to rough seas. The pirates have claimed that they were drowned when the ship went down.

Priyani's last contact with her husband was on the same Saturday before the tragedy struck and nothing was heard of the four after July 6. Her husband had said, "Don't try to rescue just me. We all must come out of this alive. We have news that the owner is going to pay up the ransom and the pirates are going to set us free on July 10. Wait till then before doing anything."

Fishing Vessel Naham 3 where two of the Lankan crew currently held hostage by pirates. Pic courtesy EU NAVFOR

Two of the Lankan crew a welder and fitter - Niroshan Perera and second engineer, Disthamy are said to be held in a nearby fishing vessel. Niroshan made a brief phone call to his wife which got cut off mid way on July 10 to convey that they were okay. The second engineer had also contacted his daughter working in the Maldives to confirm that he survived. the shipwreck.

The pirates had been indicating for days that a settlement had been reached with the owner of the ship and the hostages will be released on July 10. When Priyani's husband rang up on July 6 there was hope in his voice that day.

He told her that the ship had been taking in water for the past two weeks and the lowest deck was almost entirely submerged. They had been pumping water out. "But he did not say that the situation was so bad. May be he did not want to alarm us."

"I don't know why the pirates claim he is dead. They claim that they have the bodies. But I don't trust them and I feel he is still alive."

Family members of the Sri Lankan merchant sailors held hostage in Somalia

Captain Jawaid Saleem,one of the seven Pakistani crew members being greeted by his family after their
release last year. Pix courtesy Express Tribune
One of the life rafts of the MV Albedo spotted on
the Somali shore.

According to the ITF:Seafarers an international body helping distressed sailors and their families, seven Indian seafarers are still held captive by the Somali pirates despite the payment of a ransom two years ago. Hence, it is fair to believe the pirates may want to keep some of the hostages and continue with their demands. International Naval patrols and warships present within the region have made their business tough.

The Maritime Piracy - Humanitarian Response Program, which had been helping the families to negotiate and rescue the crew keeping track of the developments with MV Albedo however, suspects the four crew members may have landed in Somalia in one of the lifeboats (one of the MV Albedo life rafts were spotted ashore after the ship went down) and may be under the control of a different pirate group.

The EU Naval Force (EU NAVFOR Somalia) has informed that their patrol crafts and the warship which closed in on the scene did not notice any floating bodies following the incident and even in the satellite images received. They had been monitoring the hijacked ship since the pirates seized it nearly three years ago with the 23 crew on board.

A Spokesperson for the National Union of Seafarers Sri Lanka Ranjan Perera said they haven't been able to confirm if the four Lankan crew members were actually drowned as claimed by pirates. The union is keeping contact with the Secretariat for Regional Maritime Security and the UN office in Nairobi to update the families on the hostages.

The group of Pakistani seafarers of MV Albedo numbering seven were rescued by its Government in August 2012 reportedly paying US $ 1.1 million. Eleven of the remaining crew members are currently held on board a nearby vessel which too is in bad shape, according to EU NAVFOR. There had been about 50 Somali men on board MV Albedo which was kept in anchorage, in a location about 14 miles off Somali coast before it sank.

At the initial stages the hostages were well fed but when weeks turned into months they were left to starve for days without a proper meal.

"My husband always told me to be strong and his thoughts were of our son who completed Advanced level exam at a private school recently. He was worried about his higher studies."

"He said I may or may not come out of this alive, so be prepared for anything."

He had worked in many reputed shipping companies during his lengthy career which was reasonably trouble free. As if by fate this time he was compelled to join Malaysian flagged MV Albedo, since the person who was chosen could not go because his mother passed away. It was a six month contract.

After the hijacking of ship in 2010 they were held incommunicado for weeks until some managed to befriend couple of 'good pirates' to let them contact the loved ones in Sri Lanka. A worldwide plea was released to raise funds for the crew's release afterwards, but due to actions of the ship's owner these efforts did not bare fruit. Niroshan (38), one of the two still held by pirates has three sons aged 11, nine and seven years and the youngest has a history of chronic heart disease. His wife Shammika is trying her best to keep the house fire burning and children in school.

It had been five months since he departed on the assignment when the pirates took control of the ship but the Malaysian owner had never paid them their dues, not even for the five months they had been working.

Priyani said the Foreign Ministry and the Sri Lankn High Commission in Malaysia took a keen interest in helping them by arranging meetings with the Ship's owner and pressing him to get the sailors released but with the sinking of the ship their hopes have shattered and the owner now shows no interest in getting the crew released. In addition to the two Lankans, the MV Albedo crew comprises Indian, Bangladeshi and Iranian nationals who are being held by the pirates along with sailors from other seized ships on board a fishing vessel where the MV Albedo crew is held. The vessel, Naham 3, had 29 crew and in addition four Thai fishermen and seven Indian seafarers were captured from other vessels. After the ship sank, a plea was issued by family members to the pirates appealing for the release of their loved ones. The letter posted on the MPHRP website urges 'We request you to please leave the vessel and free the innocent life on Naham 3. You can go ashore safely and nobody will interfere at any moment. Once you reach shore, then our people will rescue the crew members from Naham 3.' 'We plead with you to please release our men.'

'Families of the Albedo Crew.'

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