CHENNAI: They have spent close to four years in captivity now, and there is still no hope of release for the seven seafarers of MV Asphalt Venture, held hostage by the Somali pirates. The pirates have demanded ransom and release of their compatriots from Indian jails. The seafarers belong to TN, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Punjab and Kerala.
It has been a long struggle for parents of L Daniston of Tuticorin district, one of those in custody of pirates. They have held several agitations and staged fasts along with villagers of Punnakkayal, but in vain.
“As many as four collectors have changed during this period, and we have met leaders like former Union shipping minister G K Vasan and M K Stalin, and sent petitions to the CM’s cell, but nothing came out of it,” said Litton, Daniston father. Buoyed by news of nurses being freed by ISIS militants of Iraq, he and his wife approached state ministers K A Jayapal and O Panneerselvam in the last two days to seek help.
The bitumen tanker, in which Daniston was part of the crew, was hijacked by pirates in September 2010 while on its way to South Africa from Kenya. While the vessel was released on April 15, 2011, along with eight crew members, after Panama-based ship owners paid ransom to pirates, the seven crew members were held back. There have been various demands from pirates over time, like release of Somali pirates being held in Indian prisons and more ransom money.
Families and the shipping firm have approached various authorities over the years for securing their release.
Representatives of OMCI, which managed the vessel until 2011, said they were constantly in touch with the office of the Director General of Shipping. “But nothing has come out of it,” says Captain Nitin Dhage, chief operating officer of the OMCI. While the Union ministry of shipping has been the key nodal agency for handling the case, the previous UPA regime set up an inter-ministerial group of officers (IMGO), on anti-piracy, headed by additional secretary, Union ministry of shipping, comprising representatives of various relevant government ministries to resolve the crisis.
Litton said there was no help from successive Centre and state governments.
“The Union government remains extremely concerned and is doing whatever is possible within the framework of the limited leverages that it has,” We are fully determined to continue with our efforts,” was all a senior official in the ministry had to say.