October 6, 2008

Teacher Did the Talking for Pirates

KUALA LUMPUR: The Somali pirates who hijacked the two MISC tankers in the Gulf of Aden sought the services of an English- speaking schoolteacher to help them with ransom negotiations.

The pirates, who spoke no English, took several days to sail the MT Bunga Melati Dua to their hideout.

It was the same routine when the pirates, armed with handguns, AK- 47 assault rifles and rocket-propelled grenades, hijacked a second MISC ship, MT Bunga Melati Lima, 10 days later.

After the schoolteacher was found, contact was made with MISC and negotiations began, said MISC president and chief executive Datuk Shamsul Azhar Abbas yesterday after all 65 Malaysians and 15 Filipino crew members of both ships arrived here.

(The body of another Filipino crewman of Bunga Melati Dua, who died when he was hit by a stray bullet when the pirates boarded the vessel, was flown to the Philippines.)

Shamsul said the initial ransom demand was "quite high" but declined to reveal any other details or the ransom amount.

The pirates are holding another 300 sailors from 12 other ships.

"The first step was to determine that we were talking to the right people as there are several pirate groups in the area."

Shamsul, who headed the negotiation team, said: "During the negotiations, the pirates constantly changed the deadline to pay the ransom, from a couple of hours to 24 hours."

The pirates forced crew members to call their family who would then contact the media, and the news reports the following day placed MISC under pressure.

Although the sailors were treated fairly well, they were forced to contact their families.

"Even though we finally came to a settlement, time was needed to collect the money as it was a cash transaction.

"It is not easy to withdraw such a vast sum of money as certain parties had to give the green light."

Once Bunga Melati Lima and Bunga Melati Dua were released on Sept 27 and 29 respectively, three Royal Malaysian Navy vessels escorted them to Djibouti.

KD Mahawangsa, KD Lekiu and KD Inderapura had been dispatched to the Gulf of Aden to escort MISC vessels plying the route following the two hijackings.

On Oct 1, Shamsul and a trauma team flew to Djibouti to examine and debrief the sailors. A relief crew for both tankers accompanied them.

Both tankers arrived at Djibouti on Oct 2 and the hijacked crew given counselling and a debriefing.

They left Djibouti the next day and arrived at the Subang International Airport yesterday at 4.15am. They were taken to Sheraton Subang where they were reunited with their families.


* Aug 19 MISCs chemical/palm oil tanker Bunga Melati Dua is hijacked by pirates in the Gulf of Aden between Somalia and Yemen at 10.10pm Malaysian time. Crew comprises 29 Malaysians and 10 Filipinos.

* Aug 22 MISC establishes communications with hijacked tanker and is informed of a

Filipino casualty onboard.

* Aug 25 MISC says a Filipino crew member has died onboard in an accident when the

hijackers boarded the vessel. Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak says all 29

Malaysians onboard the vessel are safe and release of hostages is being negotiated.

* Aug 29 Another Malaysian tanker, Bunga Melati Lima, is hijacked in international waters off the coast of Yemen at 9.50pm Malaysian time. The petrochemicals-laden vessel was heading towards Singapore from Yanbu, Saudi Arabia. Crew comprises 36 Malaysians and a few Filipinos.

* Aug 31 Somali pirates take Bunga Melati Lima to their coastal base, where gunmen are holding six other vessels for ransom.

* Sept 2 MISC stops all its vessels from entering the Gulf of Aden. MISC says it has started negotiations for the release of Bunga Melati Dua crew.

* Sept 3 All crew on hijacked Bunga Melati Lima safe. Two Royal Malaysian Navy vessels amphibious assault vessel KD Inderapura and frigate KD Lekiu are sent to protect Malaysian merchant ships in the region. Najib announces a third vessel, multi-role support ship KD Mahawangsa, will join the other two warships.

* Sept 4 Pirates allow four hostages of Bunga Melati Lima crew to communicate with family members. Among them are Rizal Shah Abdul Jabar and Imran Amir.

* Sept 7 Sixty-five Malaysian hostages from both hijacked vessels are held at the village of Eyl in northeastern Somalia. KD Mahawangsa leaves to join KD Inderapura. KD Lekiu anchors off Maldives in the Indian Ocean, en-route to the Gulf of Aden.

* Sept 13 Mohamad Junoh, 64, father of Bunga Melati Dua crew member, Baharudin

Mohamad, dies of diabetes.

* Sept 15 Hong Kong chemical tanker is hijacked in the Gulf of Aden.

* Sept 20 MISC says all crew members on both vessels are safe. Confirms there is enough food and drinking water for them.

* Sept 25 MV Faina, a Ukrainian freighter, is seized as it nears the Kenyan port of


* Sept 26 A Greek chemical tanker is hijacked on its way to Middle East from Europe. Stella Maris, a Japanese vessel hijacked on July 20, is released after a US$2 million (RM6.9 million) ransom is paid.

* Sept 27 Pirates release Bunga Melati Lima and its crew in the evening. Vessel and crew head for Djibouti. A ransom of US$2 million is reportedly paid.

* Sept 29 Pirates release Bunga Melati Dua and crew at 4.14am. Bunga Melati Dua heads for Djibouti, where Bunga Melati Lima is docked. A ransom of US$2 million is reportedly paid for its release.

* Oct 4 Crew of both tankers arrive at Subang International Airport at 4.15am onboard chartered flight and taken to Sheraton Subang to their waiting families.

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