Mogadishu, 04 February 2013 - “It was truly like being born again. We had given up hope and suddenly we were brought back to life,” one of the surviving crew members of the MV ICEBERG 1 said as he was released on his birthday, after being held hostage for over 1000 days by pirates off the coast of Somalia. Watch video of hostages following their release: http://vimeo.com/56538458
“It was truly like being born again. We had given up hope and suddenly we were brought back to life,” one of the surviving crew members of the MV ICEBERG 1 said as he was released on his birthday after being held hostage for over 1000 days by pirates off the coast of Somalia.
After almost three years in captivity, the hostages of the ship were set free in December 2012 and the UNPOS Counter Piracy Unit arranged for the repatriation of the crew members and flew to Bossaso on 30 December to receive them.
For two years and nine months the 22 surviving hostages endured terrible treatment.
Part of the crew had just joined the vessel two days prior to the hijacking, not knowing they would remain there for almost three years under miserable conditions. The crew was tortured and beaten on a regular basis. At times they had to resort to drinking salt water in order to survive and they were forced to work in life threatening conditions. One crew members had his ears cut off, another lost vision in one eye due to ruthless beatings and all had to endure the death of one of their fellow crew members and the disappearance of another.
While preparing medical aid for the repatriation flight, I asked myself: What state would a human being be in after surviving these atrocities for so long? I was astonished to see the answer. All hostages were strong and ready to go home. They were smiling and thanking the people who had released them; quiet at times but determined and forward looking. The strength, determination and perseverance of the crew of the MV ICEBERG 1 was a truly remarkable example of what human beings can overcome.
After an emotional goodbye with the Puntland Maritime Police Force, which had freed the hostages from captivity, everyone boarded a plane headed for Nairobi.
As Kenyan immigration rules require, we landed in Wajir on the border between Somalia and Kenya to go through procedures. I was slightly nervous as the crew members of many different nationalities were travelling on emergency travel documents and there was not much time to get everyone through before the next plane departed for Nairobi.
Thankfully, clearing papers and visas went smoothly. The Kenyan immigration authorities were helpful and sympathetic after hearing the crew’s story. But a problem arose: The security officers found bullet fragments on one of the crew members and were not happy. Seeing this reaction another crew member asked if having bullets is a problem, because he had six with him. The crew members quickly realise that having bullets in an airport is a security breach. They explained that the bullets and fragments had been shot at them in exchanges of fire throughout their time in captivity, some of them wounding them and stopping short of killing them.
After a brief discussion with security officers, we are allowed to board our plane, provided that the bullets were left behind. In the final hours of the flight to Nairobi the crew members seemed happy, sharing some of their experiences. But they also were somewhat anxious. For almost three years they had been each other’s family and helped each other stay alive and sane through the nightmare they all endured. Only they know and fully understand what these three years had been like and in an hour’s time they would be parting company – perhaps never to see each other again. But they were re-joining society and their families after such a long time.
I had asked the diplomatic representations to arrange repatriation flights as soon as possible both because the crew of course wanted to go home immediately, but also because I believed that getting home before the start of new year would allow them to start fresh with their families and hope for a better future.
Once we landed in Nairobi, we handed the released hostages over to the care of their government representatives. They thanked us for our help, and I thanked them for the privilege of being part of bringing an end to their terrible story and for teaching me about human strength. They hugged each other and said goodbye.
By Leonardo Hoy Carrasco, Associate Hostage Release and Repatriation Officer - UNPOS
Watch video of hostages following their release: http://vimeo.com/56538458
See photos of hostages released: http://www.flickr.com/photos/unpos/sets/72157632694518776/