Freed seafarers talk of six-month ordeal

The Charelle, a German-owned, Antigua and Barbuda-flagged vessel, was captured by Somali pirates in 2009 and held for six months before the ship and crew were released for a ransom payment on 3 December 2009. Four crew members tell their story

Charelle’s Chief mate:
We were 10 crew members on board – seven Sri Lankans and three Filipinos. I was on a four-month contract on this vessel when the incident happed on 12 June 2009. We were sailing off the coast of Oman near Muscat when we saw a high-speed boat coming towards us. I thought it must be Somali pirates. We immediately passed on messages to the naval forces and coastguards.

They started firing at the ship with automatic weapons and rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs). During the attack, our speed dropped to about four knots and they came alongside us and climbed on board using ladders. We could not do anything, and we surrendered. By the time the naval vessel came it was too late.

They threatened us, so we had to sail towards the Somali coast. It took five days to get there. We were anchored there for about four months. One person who came on board could speak English well, and he dealt with the crew and started negotiating the ransom with the company. The pirates were armed and the crew had to do as they bid. After four and a half months, they took us to Orbio, where we anchored. They eventually collected the ransom money, which they distributed among themselves.

During our captivity we had dry rations and medicine on the vessel. The pirates gave us sugar, rice, flour and potatoes, and we had fish around the ship, so we managed. But we ran short of water and had to ration it. We had about 50 tonnes of water when the incident took place, but with 10 crew members and 12 pirates, that wasn't enough to go around for 22 people there for six months.

Charelle’s Chief cook:
The moment the pirates boarded the vessel, my first thoughts were for my nearest and dearest back home. I managed to contact my family members and inform them of the piracy incident. Some time after that, the pirates grabbed our mobiles and other valuables, including Sri Lankan currency. After my call to my family they went to the temple and made vows for my safety.  

Our other concern was that we had some crew members who were diabetics and hypertension patients. We were worried that the medicines on the vessel would be enough for the captivity period. Fortunately, we could manage with what we had.

Charelle’s Electrical engineer:
When the pirates fired at us with RPGs, some bullets hit me and my chief engineer and injured us. Thank God we had medicines on the vessel to treat the wounds. We had to use seawater for bathing, and we collected dripping water from the vessel's air conditioner to wash the salinity off our bodies.

Charelle’s Fitter:
We were in custody for six months but we received only five months' wages. We understand our company was also in difficulties, and they had to hire an intermediary to negotiate with the pirates, who charged a large sum of money. I am returning to sea again, but not in that area.

Note: following the Charelle's release it took on a new crew and sailed to New Zealand, where an ITF inspection in March 2010 discovered that the new crew had not been paid for more than three months. The ITF is assisting the crew to retrieve their back pay (for the full news story please see the link on the right of this page).

Piracy: Enough Is Enough – strip