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As a daughter waits

May 02, 2012

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MV Albedo is the second longest held ship in Somalia, yet it doesn’t get enough media coverage. Why? We only hear about ships getting hijacked and released, but no one talks about what happens to the hostages, some of whom perish there, never reunited with their families. Everyone seems to be talking about the ‘cost’ of piracy. But no one is talking about the costs for those who live this ordeal day and night.

As the daughter of Captain Jawaid Saleem, who was taken hostage by Somali pirates in the Gulf of Aden on November 26, 2010 while his ship, the MV Albedo, was en route to Mombasa from Jebel Ali, I intend to talk about that.

People talk about how a rescue operation should be conducted but it is easier said than done. In 2011, two American couples held hostage on a yacht were shot dead by pirates as the US navy approached. Rescuing hostages at sea is very different from those on land. Were it not so, would piracy become the global plague it is today? The pirates use their hostages as human shields, barracking them along the decks if any rescue attempts are made.

Mr. Ahmed Chinoy (Head of Pakistan Citizens-Police Liaison Committee), who decided to help us with the negotiation process, has been our only hope through this. We have all been frightened by one thing or the other but nothing in my past experiences, however, compares to the fear I feel when we receive a call from the pirates. Knowing that the life of your father is in their hands, your entire body shuts down with fear. I have experienced that and seen my mother go through it on an almost daily basis, trying to communicate with them, trying not to fall apart when they threaten to torture them, when they threaten to kill them.

We, the families of the hijacked crew appeal are not supporting ransom. The pirates were demanding a ransom of $8-10million. Mr. Chinoy however refused to pay ransom. Through other channels, the pirates settled for a figure representing the re-compensation of expenses incurred by them for keeping the hostages that long, along with 50-70 of their men guarding the hijacked vessel.

Those shipping companies, who haven’t been able to pay, have in no way hindered the pirates. It is not like their crew was released or piracy stopped. The crew is used as human shields and to assist the pirates in carrying out more hijackings. Many hostages lose their lives in captivity, in the wait to be released.

A 21 year Indian has already lost his life on board the MV Albedo. His body left to deteriorate in the vessel’s freezer, since July 2011; the freezer receiving only occasional electricity supply. Months ago, my father had told my mother that it takes them an entire day to separate the rice from the stones and other impurities before boiling it. “The condition of the crew is alarming” he informed her.

The shipping company that owns the MV Albedo has closed down after their sole vessel was hijacked. If the owner was in the position to pay, would this matter have dragged on for over a year and a half?

Over this 18 month period, the crew on board the vessel has seen 25-27 hijacked vessels being released in front of their eyes, whilst they remain where they have been since Nov 2010. Do you think all those ships were released without paying the pirates? The shipping companies that can afford to pay have their people released in a matter of months. Whereas, our people are still paying the price for joining a small shipping company to earn bread for their families. We, the families on the other hand are also suffering. Their children have already been taken out of school, cutting back on everything other than the most necessary of expenses.

After 17 months of negotiating, we were given a deadline of 20th April. The crew on board passed endless days since their hijacking, enduring inhumane conditions and torture at the hands of their merciless captors, motivated only by the hope of an eventual freedom, which evades them still. Their hopes were shattered once again, when we failed to meet the deadline for payment.

The pirates have started calling my mother, demanding the money be dropped off immediately. My father, a stoic and strong person, recently asked my mother “Shahnaz, I feel like jumping into the ocean, I cannot watch my crew suffer like this, Should we give up? My crew’s life is in danger.”

Captain Jawaid Saleem. -Photo by author

In desperation, on Friday, 27 April 2012 my family and our friends and relatives gathered outside Sultan Masjid with donation boxes in our hands to collect what we could. After sending out a request out to nearly 3000 people we know, only 30 individuals arrived. Gathering outside the mosque in the blistering heat, we were begging fellow citizens for contributions, in an effort to save 22 lives.

Standing there outside the mosque, my heart broke as I watched friends, family and even strangers holding banners and donation boxes, pleading with the men leaving the mosque to donate. Their voices cracking with the emotion, breaking down in tears when the reality of the situation got too intense to bear. Moments like these renew our faith in humanity. Most of those gathered there helping us had no real reason to be there. Yet they were, sharing our pain. Our next appeal was outside the high court. We walked from the Supreme Court to the high court in the hope of meeting the Chief Justice but were told to immediately leave, we returned home disappointed.

If Mr. Chinoy and the Governor of Sindh, Dr. Ishrat-El-Ebad had not come forward, we wonder if we would even have had the option to hope. Dr. Ishrat-El-Ebad is the only person I've ever met from the government,  a humble man who attentively listened to our plea for help and consoled us. He assured our families of cooperation towards the release which meant the world to us. Our gratitued to him cannot be expressed in words.

Mr. Chinoy has made himself accessible to the pirates, round the clock. He has been dealing with the situation even though he is not related to us. He requested the Somali pirates to give us a further 20-day extension to the deadline. This is badly needed as the funds have not yet been accumulated, although the crew might not be able to survive that long considering they do not have enough drinking water or food supplies.

On Saturday, 28 April, the deadline was extended by 15 more days, after many efforts by Mr. Chinoy. Two days have passed since then with little progress with regard to fund raising. We now have 13 days left and each day passes in excruciating pain and trepidation. This time we know that we cannot afford to test the patience of the pirates any further or disappoint the crew on board, their morale at their lowest, surviving on a fraction of their already meager rations.

When it comes to attending a social event, people don’t hesitate to be ostentatious and extravagantly spend three to four figure amounts to book a VIP table or purchase designer bags that have no purpose in life but to show others how they like to spend. – But, when it comes to saving lives, people choose to simply ignore. Where is the humanity? These are hostages, each fighting their own battle to survive. I consider them heroes for surviving this long in such immense deprivation.

Death is an inescapable reality and when you die, it is the good deeds you leave behind that last. It is your good deeds that people remember you by.  So if anybody wants to help, now is the time! Save those who can be saved.

The below Charity Account has been set for raising the funds required:

Bank Name: NIB Bank LTD. Branch Name: University Road Branch, Karachi, Pakistan Account Name: Shahnaz Jawaid & Neelam Mujtaba Account No. (PKR): 10052-10653622 Account No. (USD): 10052-10653789 Account No. (GBP) :10052-10653808 Swift Code: NIBPPKKA (This is the same as Sort Code, ABA No, IFSC No. or Transit Institution No.)

People living abroad can donate through Western Union.

For more information, visit www.savemvalbedo.com and follow us on Twitter @SaveMVAlbedo.com or contact us at savemvalbedo@gmail.com