Every piracy and hijacking episode has its own human toll, which is seldom ever revealed, but the episode involving the BELUGA NOMINATION stands out for a variety of reasons. Of late, violence against seafarers seems to have grown from bad to worse, and those on board BELUGA NOMINATION's experienced some of the worst leading to multiple deaths and injuries.
BELUGA, a German company, has been in financial trouble for quite some time now. About 50 of its 140-odd vessels are currently impounded or in trouble worldwide for fiduciary reasons, and more are re-possesed or trade under other fundamentals Even the BELUGA NOMINATION, by the time it was released, had been renamed NOMINATION.
Seized on 22jan2011, she was on a voyage from Italy via Malta to South Korea via Seychelles, carrying cargo listed as "steel" but actually much else - including structurals, boats and yachts. This company is known to be in the business of delivering arms globally, also, and till today it has not been revealed what cargo she was actually carrying.
The crew were able to withstand the attack for 49 hours in the citadel, and even managed to steer and control the vessel while inside. However, despite the presence of naval forces nearby, no action was taken to remove the pirates - who finally broke into the citadel using blow-torches and gas-operated cutting tools.
Initially, the vessel was part of the convoy leaving the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden, and despite reports of pirates circling the convoy looking for stragglers, the vessel chose to break away from the convoy in full sight of the pirates, who then followed her. With a slow speed, loaded down to her marks with deck cargo visible, and a 2 metre freeboard as a heavy-lift carrier small general cargo ship, she was a sitting duck target - and other ships in the convoy wondered.
In the initial turmoil due to the citadel being breached, two seafarers managed to escape - the Ukranian 2nd Officer launched the lifeboat and a Filipino cook jumped into the water to get into the boat, and were rescued by the Danish warship HDMS ESBERN SNARE, which was suddenly on-scene.Two more seafarers who jumped into the water went missing, and a pirate was killed in the fighting that followed, after which yet another seafarer was killed in retribution.
It was after this that the naval ships nearby, Danish and Seychelles Coast Guard, also fired on the engine room to disable the ship. Why they did not do this before the citadel was breached is yet unknown, some attribute it to lack of information on the explosive nature of the cargo as well as communication with the Master of the ship, which as mentioned before was carrying some probably undeclared cargo in the holds.
After this, the pirates brough the Long Range Mother Ship, the previously pirated gas tanker YORK, and used her engine crew to work and repair the BELUGA NOMINATION, after which both sailed back to the Somali coast.
It was also reported that the Chief Engineer of the BELUGA NOMINATION died under terrible circumstances.
As this blog is written, the NOMINATION (as she is now called) is now released and in safe waters, the status of cargo onboard as well as seafarers is not reliably known, and interim since the owners, managers and operators have all changed, the only remaining thread is with the insurance company - Danish company SKULD.
The BELUGA NOMINATION episode, if and when the truth about the remaining 6 or 7 seafarers from the original 12 or 14 is revealed, brings out many important issues:-
# Management companies are still not able to do much, despite being the link, for seafarers. The seafarers onboard this ship were covered under an ITF agreement between Marlowe Navigation and Vereinte Dienstleistungsgewerkschaft, both of whom were not able to do much.
# The situation with number of ships currently seized and seafarers being held captive is grossly under-stated. According to one EU-NAVFOR report, the actual number of ships and seafarers is double that of official figures - there are many piracy incidents which are simply not revealed.
# The old method of citadels built around steering gears and after peak tanks will not work, and citadels will have to be built to withstand at least 7 days of effort, to permit naval ships to take action, especially if it involves coordination with multiple entities representing owners, charterers, flag state, cargo receivers, ITF, insurers and other interests.
# Seafarers own insurance terms and conditions for working in piracy areas need to be defined more clearly, in advance, and next of kin taken into confidence at all times.
There is much that is still unknown about what actually happened with the crew on the BELUGA NOMINATION. And this was one of the so-called "best of breed" European owners, with European officers and Philipino crew, all covered by a variety of agreements. And half of them now dead.