On the Ukranian Weapons Ship Stand-off

February 13th, 2009 - by admin

EcoTerra International & East African Seafarers Assistance Program – 2009-02-13 22:33:47

Special to Environmentalists Against War

(February 1, 2009) — Efforts for a peaceful release continued, but the over four months long stand-off concerning Ukrainian MV FAINA is not yet solved. Contacts and direct negotiations had been arranged and commenced, but the talks are said to have not been forthcoming, though the decision maker on the side of the owner is desperate to conclude the issue.

Becoming a pirate is a way to survive in Somalia, a devastated African country of about 9 million people living on a territory slightly larger than Ukraine yet just below the size of Texas, the Kiev Post writes. Life expectancy there is only about 48 years. The last two generations of youth have not had a school education, and have few other skills apart from those needed for basic survival.

“Piracy is no more than a way to survive — a brutal way, but they don’t have a choice,” said Nina Karpacheva, Ukraine’s ombudsman who has taken part in negotiations to release the Ukrainian sailors held hostage for four months. “There is no money, no food — nothing. They know nothing else besides holding a gun.” She said the youngest pirate who was involved in capturing Faina is just 14.

People involved in piracy consider it a business. Despite the risk of being taken hostage by pirates, vessels cross the Gulf of Aden because it saves ship owners around $100 per ton of cargo. It costs $180 per ton to go the longer way, around the Cape of Good Hope.

“The pirates control each other. Nobody earns more than $2,000. Everyone has a family waiting on the shore,” said Karpacheva. She quoted pirates saying: “These are not ransoms, but a fee for crossing our waters, polluting them and unsanctioned fish catch. These are simple taxes.”

Getting rid of the Somali pirate phenomenon requires addressing the complexities of Somalia as a nation, its deep political and economic challenges. “You could have all the navies in the world having all their ships out there, you know, it’s not going to ever solve this problem. It requires a holistic approach,”

Geoff Morrel, Pentagon press secretary, said about piracy in the XXI century. Karpacheva said the Germans and French have tried to release ships by force, killing several of the pirates while doing so, but their effort backfired. “Later when the United Nations started to build schools on Somali territory, many Europeans were murdered,” she said. “We should protect the people of Somalia and give them an opportunity to develop and create a merchant fleet, as the Gulf of Aden is one of the richest fish reserves on the globe.”

It is hoped that the final round of negotiations during the coming week will bring a tangible result.

The Somali as well as the Ukrainian/Russian/Israeli sides must come to terms now and set the innocent seafarers free with first priority ! And in order to avoid the destruction of the vessel and its cargo by anybody as well as to avert the subsequent humanitarian, health and environmental horror-scenario, such can only be achieved together with the release of the ship, where also the body of deceased Cpt. Vladimir Kolobkov is still kept.

If the stand-off can not be resolved within the next days ECOTERRA Intl. demands immediate humanitarian assistance to be allowed, facilitated and dispatched to the vessel and the body of deceased Cpt. Vladimir Kolobkov transferred to his family with respect. ECOTERRA Intl. also calls for human rights protection to be provided for all crew members, their families in Russia, the Ukraine and Latvia as well as for all well-meaning people assisting in solving the case, many of whom have been subjected already to serious threats, acts of intimidation and persecution.

ECOTERRA Intl. repeats it’s call to solve the FAINA case now with absolute top priority and peaceful in order to avert a human and environmental disasters at the Somali coast. Humanitarian assistance must be allowed by the captors and facilitated by the owners. Anybody encouraging hot-headed and concerning such difficult situations inexperienced and untrained gunmen or those, who believe they would be capable to try an attempt of a military solution, must be held fully responsible for the surely resulting disaster.

The saga and secrecy surrounding MV FAINA must not — like in the MS ESTONIA case, which is the worst naval disaster in Europe since WWII — become the shroud for its 20 seafarers. “The environment and its natural resources are all too often forgotten as the long-term casualty of war. Environmental security must no longer be viewed as a luxury but needs to be seen as a fundamental part of a long-lasting peace policy.” – UNEP

The Faina is one of at least 49 ships that pirates seized last year off the Horn of Africa during a surge in piracy driven in part by Somalia’s growing poverty and instability. The multimillion dollar ransoms are believed by many to be one of the only ways to “make money” in the impoverished nation.

But while the many cases of sea-jacked merchant vessels on innocent passage (sailing even outside the EEZ e.g. in the Indian Ocean) constitutes clear piracy, Somali actions against illegal fishing or against any transport of illegitimate or clandestine goods has a legal standing. ECOTERRA advocates to end all destructive, detrimental, criminal and illegal activities in Somali waters.

Raising public awareness through legitimate criticism of government actions is a fundamental part of human rights work. We know the Ukrainian authorities don’t welcome facts or information about allegations, but governments trying to prevent torture or other internationally outlawed human rights violations or crimes should encourage reporting of complaints, but not retaliate against human rights defenders.

Article 25 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights guarantees the right to take part in the conduct of public affairs. The UN Human Rights Committee has stated that, “Citizens also take part in the conduct of public affairs by exerting influence through public debate.”

States also have obligations specifically relating to protecting and ensuring the right of human rights defenders to do their work. The United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Defenders states that everyone has the right to promote the protection and realization of human rights and that individuals or groups have the right to articulate criticism and make proposals for improving the work of government bodies, among other rights.

Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights and article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights guarantee free speech. Government officials are expected to be more receptive to criticism than private citizens, especially when it concerns the carrying out of their official duties.

The hijacked tanker’s highly flammable cargo of liquefied petroleum has (LPG) posses as deadly risk to its kidnapped crew and anyone attempting to free the vessel, analysts said. At 4,316 deadweight tonnes, the captured vessel is not especially large, but its cargo “is posing security problems for all involved, especially since Somali pirates have previously shown themselves ready to open fire close to crude, petroleum products and chemical tankers,” said Samuel Ciszuk, the Middle East energy analyst at the consulting firm, IHS Global Insight.

“Unless the hijackers understand what type of product they are dealing with, there is a very high risk of a disastrous outcome.” LPG is a mixture of propane, butane and other fuel gases compressed into a liquid state. A common fuel for gas stoves, one of its features is that it can be easily ignited. The German operators of a tanker hijacked off the coast of Somalia are hoping to stay in touch with the ship after establishing initial contact with the pirates, they said Sunday,

according to DPA. “We hope to stay in dialogue,” with the pirates on board the MV Longchamp, a spokesman for Bernhard Schulte ship management company said, hours after they had received a first phone call from the captors. The pirates on board the tanker contacted the Hamburg-based shipping company Saturday, two days after taking charge of the tanker. “We received a phone call and were also able to talk briefly with the captain,” the spokesman said. The captain had been able to confirm that all 13 crew members — 12 Filipinos and one Indonesian — were in good health.

Bernhard Schulte Ship Management were unable to confirm whether a ransom had been demanded. They did not know how many pirates were on board the ship. The tanker, transporting liquefied petroleum gas, was seized on Thursday morning, en route from Europe to the Far East.

The 100-metre-long vessel belongs to MPC Steamship, a branch of a German investment group, a spokesman for the company in Hamburg said. MPC Steamship contracts the operation out to the Bernhard Schulte ship management company, a longtime Hamburg shipping operator.

Currently the ship is chartered to yet another company, Bridge Marine, which is registered in the Liberian capital Monrovia. The MPC spokesman said the ship had passed through the Suez Canal and waited for a day to join a convoy under Indian naval protection as it passed through pirate-infested waters.

“This morning at dawn (local time), seven pirates hijacked the ship. It was under coalition escort,” Till Giessmann of MPC Capital said on Thursday. However, the Indians could not prevent pirates from seizing the vessel, which was steered away from the convoy toward the Somali coast.

Lawyers in Hamburg are preparing a case, on the grounds of attack on air and sea transport, thought to be the first case against piracy to be filed in Hamburg. Attacks on air and sea transport carry sentences of a minimum five years’ prison in German law.

Negotiations obviously have not gone well since the vessel is now kept for almost 3 month near Eyl. The true story of the circumstances surrounding the delay might well become a separate story for a crime best-seller with plenty of double- and triplecrossing moves.

With the latest captures and releases now still at least 15 foreign vessels with a total of 254 crew members accounted for (of which 56 are Filipinos) are held in Somali waters and are monitored on our actual case-list, while several other cases of ships, which were observed off the coast of Somalia and have been reported or had reportedly disappeared without trace or information, are still being followed.

Over 134 incidences (including attempted attacks, averted attacks and successful sea-jackings) have been recorded for 2008 with 49 fully documented, factual sea-jacking cases (for Somalia, incl. the presently held) and the mistaken sinking of one vessel by a naval force.

For 2009, the account stands at 15 averted or abandoned attacks and 6 sea-jackings on the Somali/Yemeni pirate side as well as one wrongful attack by friendly fire on the side of the naval forces. Mystery pirate mother-vessels Athena/Arena and Burum Ocean as well as not fully documented cases of absconded vessels are not listed in the sea-jack count until clarification.

Several other vessels with unclear fate (also not in the actual count), who were reported missing over the last ten years in this area, are still kept on our watch-list, though in some cases it is presumed that they sunk due to bad weather or being unfit to sail. In the last four years, 22 missing ships have been traced back with different names, flags and superstructures.

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Professor Ken Kamoche from Kenya writes:
“The Somali pirate threat is not to be trifled with… but mighty armies are sent out to “fight” barefoot pirates. .. These guys mean business, but it seems bizarre that such a relatively minor phenomenon should prove so difficult to contain, especially by those countries closest to the action, that it should require a multinational force more suited to a world war. It is just a bunch of pirates for goodness’ sake, it is not exactly up there with Al-Qaeda and suicide bombers.

“If the German, British, US, French, Korean, and now Chinese and Japanese ships “protecting” these waters are not up to the task, it is time to call in the humorous crew of Tintin, Captain Haddock and good old Snowy to the rescue. We are talking seas that are typically so calm and serene under azure skies you would think you were holidaybound, except for the seemingly irritating presence of bare-footed, miraa-chewing, swashbuckling, gun-totting, untrained, sea bandits, clambering up your deck demanding money, fuel and shoes.

“The mighty armies of the two most powerful nations in the east, China and Japan, have studied this major 21 century challenge and decided here is a chance, at last, to prove they too are a force to reckon with. It is a reincarnation of the Eastern Fleet warships led by the British Royal Navy in World War II. For Japan, this decision marks a major departure from the post world war constitution which severely restricts military activity except for peace keeping.

“Technically, Japan is not going to war against pirates. They will, presumably, be protecting ships in the Gulf of Aden and threatening pirates with fire and brimstone. The brave warriors will eventually go back home and boast about having seen action ‘in Africa.’ They will be welcomed with bouquets and feted like heroes.

“If it sounds too much like Captain Haddock and the adventures of Tintin, it is probably because the exaggerated heroism of modern armies scaring wild-eyed, hungry-looking pirates away is just as comical. What has happened in Somalia in modern times is just tragic.

“The piracy is symptomatic of what is wrong with large swathes of Africa, from Zimbabwe to Sudan and Somalia, where deep-seated problems fester for years while the world watches, and countries only take action when their interests are threatened or when the problems morph into that unspeakable abomination, terrorism.”

ECOTERRA members with marine and maritime expertise, joined by it’s ECOP-marine group, are closely and continuously monitoring and advising on the Somali situation. The network of the Seafarers Association Programme (SAP) helped significantly in most sea-jack cases.

ECOTERRA Intl. is working in Somalia since 1986 on humanrights and nature protection, while ECOP-marine concentrates on illegal fishing and the protection of the marine ecosystems. Your support counts too. Please consider to contribute to the work of the SAP, ECOP-marine or ECOTERRA Intl. and donate to the defense fund.

Contact us for details concerning project-sponsorship or donations via e-mail: ecotrust@ecoterra.net Kindly note that all the information above is distributed under and is subject to a license under the Creative Commons Attribution.

ECOTERRA Intl. — Nairobi Node +254-733-633-733 EEA www.ecoterra-international.org . africanode@ecoterra.net
ECOP–mariine East-Africa +254-714-747090 www.ecop.info
SAP Media Officer +254-733-385868 sap@ecoterra.net