Piracy REPORT:
Pirates Kill One, Wound Another, Aboard MV Orna
First Intentional Murder of Syrian Crew by Pirates To Speed Up Ransom Payment
MV Orna
MV Orna

Somali pirates holding the MV Orna, hijacked on December 20th, 2010, have told Somalia Report that they have killed a Syrian and wounded another to force payment of the ransom. Pirates have often threatened to kill crew members and a number of crew members have died while in captivity but this is the first time since 2007 that a murder has been used as a negotiating tactic by pirates. Pirates killed four Americans aboard the SV Quest but this is not known if this was a negotiating tactic or part of a botched raid.

In 2011 35 mariners have died typically during escape attempts or rescues. Back in 2007 a Tawainese crewmember of a Taiwanese fishing vessel was shot by pirates when ransom demands were not met. The ship was eventually rescued by the US Navy.

Crewmembers have died or committed suicide by jumping overboard but investors have been careful not to break the piracy business model. A loose but tacit agreement that money will be paid only for a intact ship, cargo and crew. Crews have been beaten, had their hand cut off and been threatened with violence. Cargos have been looted, ships have been damaged but threats to execute crew or officers have not been carried out during financial negotiations.

It is not known who was killed or wounded or if the crew members were killed in a qat-induced rage or coldly executed to speed up the ransom. There were 18 Syrian nationals and one Sri Lankan on board the Panamanian flagged bulk cargo ship when it was seized 400 nautical miles, northeast of the Seychelles back in December 20th, 2010. The ship was hijacked by pirates operating from two skiffs who fired small arms and RPGs at the vessel during the attack.

At that time Capt Abdul Kadar, the owner of Kasaab Intershipping/Swedish Management/Sirago Ship Management, said the MV Orna was carrying 26,500 tonnes of coal from Durban, South Africa and was enroute to Okha, India, when it was hijacked. Kadar promised to begin negotiations as soon as the ship was berthed offshore Somalia and the pirates made their demands.

The history and fate of the MV Orna has been clouded with confusion.

Last month the pirate group holding the vessel told Somalia Report that negotiations had concluded and that the ransom has now arrived in Mogadishu. Back then they claimed, “This week the ransom for the MV Orna arrived in Mogadishu. It’s about $1.2 million and now that it is in Mogadishu the negotiators are planning to move the money to Mudug or Galmadug region. The pirate group will release the vessel as soon as they have the ransom.”

The ransom negotiations stalled several times, but officials, businessmen and pirates who took part in the negotiation told Somalia Report that the Orna crew were in good health. But back in late 2011 the senior crew members Moaead Wlio, Yahyah Alabsi, and Captain Jawhar said that the situation aboard the vessel was increasingly becoming 'dark and gloomy'. It is common for pirates to convey images of ill health, abuse hostages over the phone and in videos and paint a depressing picture to speed up negotiations. In this case there was plenty of evidence to support Captain Jawhar's complaints, including the painfully long 21 months they have been held as prisoners.

Somalia Report reported that the pirates on board the Orna had threatened to kill the Arab crew back in November of last year but decided not to. The crew of the Orna has been abused by pirates and the owner since then. Captain Jawhar had claimed that the owner had abandoned them and had falsely promised to pay the ransom earlier that summer. Back then the demanded ransom was $2.2 million. A relatively low payment. The MV Orna has had a rather checkered past, having seen service as a pirate mother ship as well as the ship's bridge being heavily damaged by a cooking fire onboard while berthed 18 kms north of Haradhere in June 2011.

In 2011 the officers and crew told Somalia Report that the cargo owners were willing to pay a half of the ransom demanded by the pirates but the ship owner was not being cooperative. The master of the vessel told Somalia Report that the Dubai based ship owner had abandoned the vessel.

Capt. Jawhar said the ship owner was not to be trusted as he had falsely promised to pay the ransom money since July to secure the release of the vessel and her crew.

“We are being treated like wild beasts in the jungle... with no respect at all. We do not have any fresh water, no toilets, and no enough food. We are being given a loaf of bread every day,” they said.

Capt. Jawhar said that the gunmen were demanding to be paid US$2.2 million to secure release of the crew and the vessel. Last month the pirates seemed pleased to receive the much smaller amount but were angered when it never was delivered to the ship.