Attacks at sea

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Attacks at sea

Pirates are very violent to sailors, but the main problem is not the kidnapping, but the exploitation from a labour market with no rules. Olivia Swift reports.


Most of the victims of the pirates’ victims are sailors from poor countries. Above, Vietnamese sailor Vu Van Ba meets his parents again after being a hostage for18 months off the coast of Somalia. (© Ngyuen Huy Khan/Reuters)

‘It was like being born again. We had no hope and suddenly we came back to life.’ These were the words of a sailor from the MV Iceberg when he was freed after 33 months of captivity by pirates off the Somali coast. It was 23 December 2012 – the sailor’s birthday – and after a two-week siege by the local maritime police.

Being in prison on the ship was terrible too. There were 24 sailors at the beginning, but one killed himself and another probably tried to swim to land. The rest were tied up and beaten daily. The chief engineer had even worse treatment. He had his ear cut, he was kept totally alone for a year and was almost killed with plastic bags.

But the hostages say that perhaps the worst torture of all was when they often saw international ships come near and then go away. They didn’t want to try to help and put lives in danger.


But the owner of the ship, from Yemen, and living in Dubai – who maybe did not have insurance – had stopped trying to agree a ransom with the pirates (if he had ever even started). He did nothing for the ship and everyone on it.

This was one of the longest kidnappings. On average captivity, the 600 sailors were held hostage by Somali pirates in 2012 for 11 months. Most suffered abuse and they wondered if they would get home to their families. Their families would find it very difficult if the ship owners did not pay them.

Easy money

Piracy – a very old profession – happens in different oceans at different times. It sometimes gets less but never goes completely. There is less Somali piracy now that there is more piracy off the West African coast. About five per cent of the 1.5 million sailors in the world have been attacked by pirates since 2008 (according to the Oceans Beyond Piracy project).

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