Panama should be ashamed. The ITF (International Transport Workers’ Federation) is now having to call on it to help the recently released crew of the Panama-flagged MV Iceberg 1 recover from their ordeal in the hands of Somali pirates. Panama should have been amongst the first to come to their succor. Its seeming lack of concern doesn’t speak well of the country. Is Panama only after the money to be made from operating the world’s largest ship register?

Says ITF seafarers’ section chairman Dave Heindel: ‘It is unfortunate that the flag state has not discharged its duty of care set out by the IMO to these seafarers during their captivity, even though they were serving on a vessel flying its flag. There is now an opportunity for it to contribute to their support and rehabilitation.’ For the record, the men of the Iceberg were helped home by the UNPOS and UNODC Hostage Support Programme with support from other parties. Amongst them: the Interpol, the Maritime Piracy Humanitarian Response Programme (MPHRP), the seafarers’ consulates (two countries sent aircraft to pick up their nationals) and the ITF.

The 25th May 2012 circular of the IMO Maritime Safety Committee (‘Interim Guidance for Flag States on Measures to Prevent and Mitigate Somali-based Piracy” – MSC.1/Cir.1444) says in part: ‘A State’s counter-piracy policy should contain measures regarding the eventuality that a ship entitled to fly its flag is captured, and to ensure that, as far as possible, the humanitarian needs of the crew and families are addressed during the period of captivity and after release.’

Heeding the call to help rehabilitate the MV Iceberg 1 crew is a matter of duty for Panama. It’s also a matter of humanity and plain decency. The men were subjected by the Somali pirates to unspeakable torture, starvation and even mutilation. One hostage had his ears mutilated. Another, a Yemeni, was driven to suicide because he couldn’t take it. Still another, the Indian chief officer, is known to have been separated from the crew and tortured. He is still missing. For Panama, the flag state, to be deaf to the plea is to tarnish its image as a maritime nation and confirm the still widespread apathy toward piracy victims. ~Barista Uno

A FOOTNOTE: The Panama-flagged MV Iceberg 1, a roll-on/roll-off vessel, was hijacked by Somali pirates on 29th March 2010. Twenty-two crew members were freed after a gun battle between Puntland forces and the pirates on 23rd December 2012: eight Yemenis, five Indians, four Ghanaians, two Pakistanis, two Sudanese and one Filipino. Some of the men have been reported to be suffering from mental problems.

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