The fate of 17 Algerian sailors held hostage by Somali pirates aboard the MV
Blida remains unknown after neither the ship's owner nor government officials could make contact.
Thursday, 06.Jan.2011, 02:09 (GMT+3)
[EUNAVFOR] The MV Blida is being held by Somali pirates in the Indian Ocean with more than two dozen sailors aboard.
Families of 17 Algerian sailors aboard a ship pirated off the coast of Oman last Saturday haven't received any information or news about their relatives, according to International Bulk Carriers (IBC) general manager Nacer Mansouri.
"Their fate is still unknown until we receive any contact from those pirates who usually wait for at least a week to start calling to demand ransom," said Mansouri, whose company owns the ship.
Somali pirates hijacked the Algerian-flagged and owned vessel carrying 27 crew in the Indian Ocean while it was en route to Dar es Salaam, Tanzania from Salalah, Oman.
The act of piracy was the first of its type against an Algerian ship.
"No one has claimed responsibility," a statement from the Algerian Foreign Ministry read, adding that a crisis cell was formed to follow the latest developments.
Meanwhile, the families of kidnapped sailors came to the IBC offices to know the details of what happened to their relatives and check on their safety.
Algerian Transport Minister Amar Tou revealed on Wednesday (January 5th) that the government knows the location of the MV Blida and is tracking its movements "thanks to the 'COSS', a safety system for ships; it allows us to locate the vessel".
The authorities were unable to get in touch with the pirates or crew.
"Contact was lost at about 2:30 PM Saturday with MV Blida," said Mansouri. The vessel was chartered by a Jordanian company and was carrying clinker, a product used to make cement.
A spokesperson for the European Union's Naval Force (EUNAVFOR) counter-piracy operation said that the hijacking took place 150 nautical miles (278km) off the Omani coast. He pointed out that the ship was registered with the Maritime Security Centre (MSC), but it didn't report to the United Kingdom Maritime Trade Organisation (UKMTO).
Mansouri said that the 32-year-old Blida was seized by Somali pirates. He noted that the pirates have become more daring, operating further from the Somali coast where scores of other hijackings occurred. He said that it was unlikely that the captain was responsible for entering into a piracy zone, noting the location of the hijacking.
"The piracy took place at an area that is very far away from their usual place of operations," he said, adding that "each ship has a security system in similar cases", and that "an unarmed security officer launched a warning device and the signal was picked up".
The ship owner also added that the ransom the pirates demand is usually based on the cargo rather than the people, especially when it is not related to important figures. However, he avoided answering a question on paying a ransom while Algeria strongly opposes this, saying that "these issues are now handled at the highest levels beyond the company". However, Mansouri noted that "it's a reassuring thing that the issue is not political, but has purely financial purposes."
"The piracy against the Algerian MV Blida necessitates a review of marine shipping and adoption of more conditions to ensure the safety and movements of ships," security affairs expert Bachir Mesbah said. He added that "although the entity that is responsible for this operation has not yet called to show its identity and demands, most doubts are directed towards the Somali pirates." He expects that the hijackers would demand ransom to release the ship and its crew.
For his part, Filalli Ghouini, a member of the Defence Committee in the Parliament, downplayed the likelihood that the hijacking of MV Blida would affect the determination of the Algerian state not to pay any ransoms, based on the unwavering position that it has promoted in many international forums. It even convinced the UN to adopt its demand to criminalise ransom payments in order to drain sources of terrorist financing.
"Algeria's position about the criminalisation of ransom payment is a wise and balanced position that sets things right," Ghouini said. "Algeria has suffered more than any other country of the scourges of terrorism and acts that affected the people, wealth and fate of Algeria."
"No one should imagine that a ransom will be paid to make Algeria kneel," the parliamentarian noted. "We all don't want to see our country kneeling before those pirates," adding that the experience and skill of Algerian diplomacy allowed the country to solve a lot of problems in the past and it is capable of solving this one.