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MV CHARELLE FREED FROM PIRACY OFF SOMALIA

Cargo vessel freed from Somalia - all 10 crew-members reported to be well. Seized in the afternoon on Friday June 12, 2009, the relatively small 2,800-tonne general cargo ship MV CHARELLE has been released by her captors after they received a ransom, maritime observers working with ECOTERRA Intl. reported. 



The owner of the vessel and the captain confirmed the release. The ship is manned by seven Sri Lankans and three Filipino sailors and all are reportedly well, given the circumstances after being held hostage for nearly five month.

MAY DAY

The Antigua and Barbuda flagged vessel - carrying at present mostly empty containers - was boarded by 8 Somali pirates just off the12nm territorial waters of the Sultanate of Oman near Ras el Had, which is about 120 miles south-east of the capital Muscat and around 60 miles from the famous Dhow building place and harbour of Sur, where the Gulf of Oman and the Indian Ocean meet.

"I can confirm a ship, the MV CHARELLE, has been hijacked Friday afternoon inside Oman's territorial waters", Commander Chris Davies, NATO's maritime spokesman said at first. Later it was clarified that the seajacking of MV CHARELLE, operated by Pentagon Freight Services LLC between Indian Ocean and Red Sea Ports, took place outside Oman’s territorial waters. However, this was the first recorded attack close to the waters of the Sultanate of Oman and it remains so far the only one, though just yesterday the crew of a Greek oil tanker and using flares and hoses fought off a pirate attack in the Arabian Sea. The pirates fired automatic weapons at the MT SIKINOS and its crew of 24 some 500 miles (800 kilometers) south-east of Oman.

Before being overwhelmed by the pirates, the captain had sent the international distress signal MD (May Day) via VHF radio, which was received and re-transmitted by another vessel, the MV Eli Maersk, that was close by. The signal told that the ship was boarded by Somali pirates.

The MV Eli Maersk, however, then falsely reported that MV CHARELLE was on fire while the 10 member crew had retreated to the ship's engine compartment.

NATO Lieutenant Commander Alexandre Fernandes aboard the Portuguese warship Corte-Real admitted that the naval forces dispatched for anti-piracy duties in the area had not heard the distress call from the vessel but later also confirmed the abduction.

The Omani authorities and navy responded immediately, but after realizing that that MV CHARELLE had been boarded by heavily armed pirates, could do little.

Gary Kruger - Manager Pentagon Freight Services Oman LLC, who operate the cargo - and Jim Robb, General Manager ISS Oman, of Inchcape Shipping Services who are the agents for the charterers of the vessel, first had no information about the ship.

Twenty percent of global shipping – including 8 percent of global oil shipments – is funnelled into the narrow, pirate-infested Gulf of Aden that leads through the Red Sea to the Suez Canal. The route is bordered on one side by the failed state of Somalia and on the other by the increasingly unstable country of Yemen.

The Charelle case off Oman triggered immediately new fears that Somali pirates had started ‘fishing’ in new and least expected waters, which unfortunately became very true with attacks happening in the meantime up to 1000 nautical miles away from the Somali coast.

Some time after the attack the MV CHARELLE then was commandeered to a southern direction and towards Somalia - escorted by a Coalition warship and an Omani navy vessel, both of which refrained from intervening in order to avoid endangering the crew. Vessel and crew then were directed by the pirates to Hobyo, where the vessel was moored for the long months to come - just 3 nautical miles off the coast to the north of the ancient capital of the former Sultanate in central Somalia.

GLOBAL AFFAIR

The Charelle affair was a truly global one, implicating the Gulf state of Oman, where the vessel was abducted nearby, the flag-state Antigua and Barbuda, a small island nation with a population of only about 85,000 located north of South-America on the eastern boundary of the Caribbean Sea with the Atlantic Ocean, then 6 time zones away the owner-manager in New Zealand, the owner company in Samoa, fearing for their German-built vessel operated from the Arab Gulf State of Dubai with a crew from Sri-Lanka and the Philippines and in the core of all the Horn of Africa and Somalia where the vessel was held by Somali pirates at Hobyo.

Samoa is now the fastest growing offshore centre in the South Pacific. A very business-friendly government seeks to stoke the engines of economic growth. Complete anonymity of owners is guaranteed by law. There is no public register, which makes finding the owner of a Samoan corporation very difficult. Thus, the Samoan company offers substantial privacy of ownership while bearer shares are available.
But it took not long to clarify that TARMSTEDT INTERNATIONAL LTD of Samoa (Apia) is the owner, while TRADEX MARINE LTD of New Zealand are the managers and early media reports claiming that the MV CHARELLE was a German vessel could be rectified.
Though the 86 m long vessel was built in 1985 in Bremerhaven, Germany by Seebeckwerft, the vessel since then had changed ownership and name seven times and only since 2007 it sails under the name MV CHARELLE. At present it is insured with the Ship Owners' Mutual P&I Association of Luxembourg. Unfortunately the vessel has no ITF agreement covering the crew.

NEGOTIATIONS

The Sri Lankan Foreign Ministry stated that Lankan missions in Nairobi and Canberra were coordinating with relevant officials and likewise the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) of the Republic of the Philippines through its mission in Kenya kept a watch.

However, in October the New Zealand shipping company, who owns the vessel, confirmed that negotiations for the release of MV CHARELLE had broken down, because the negotiator of the sea-shifta did not honour the reached agreement and negotiations had to start all over again with a new interpreter on the Somali side and a mediator.

While in the beginning of the crisis 65 tonnes of oil and sufficient food and water for the crew members were on board, the supplies rapidly declined. Captain Bandara did a remarkable job to keep the crew healthy and unharmed throughout the ordeal.

Seven of the 10 member crew are Sri Lankans including the Captain E.M.G. Bandara from Rakwana, First Officer Indika Ruwan, chief engineer Anton Seneviratne, chief cook Sunil Amerasinghe and seamen Ajith Amerasinghe, Ananda Perera and Lakshman Perera.

The crew is completed by three Filipino sailors Renel Redanial, Richard and Agustin, who were hired through the Philippine manning agency Leeward Marines, despite a ban for Pinoy seafarers to work on ships, which have to go through pirate-infested waters.
Renewed efforts to come to a conclusion proofed to be extremely difficult, because in the meantime an immense ransom was paid for the release of Spanish fishing vessel FV ALAKRANA, which caused also the pirates of MV CHARELLE to want more.

RELEASE

With affirmative action taken, the new negotiations reached an agreement and the vessel, which was held mostly near Hobyo, moved northward to Garacad at the North-Eastern Somali Indian Ocean coast.

There typical last minute quarrels among the pirates could be resolved and a security system set up for the release.
Today, Thursday, in the afternoon and shortly before 17h00 (14h00 UTC) the last man of the Somali sea-shift left the vessel.
Secured against another hostile takeover, MV CHHARELLE sailed to freedom.

AFTERTHOUGHTS

The case once again did proof that pro-active and dedicated mediation is the right key to achieve a fast and secure release.

When MV CHARELLE was seized back in June 14 ships were being held at the time by Somali sea-shifta and still now, five month later and though releases and new captures changed names and figures in between, a similar number of ships is kept hostage in Somalia - despite the fact that billions of dollars are spent on naval operations of a global armada around the Horn of Africa.

As long as there will be no respect for Somalia and the natural resources like the wealth of the tuna fisheries and support from the free world to help the impoverished coastal communities in Somalia to develop and prosper without piracy, the menace will never be stopped - even not with further billions channelled to the western military-industrial complex or with an invasion of the sovereign nation of Somalia. The situation only will be made worst and the violence will escalate.

Like with the Barbary Pirates 200 years ago - Americans still cry out today: "Millions for defense, not one cent for tribute" - the only difference is that back then they could solve the problem by wiping out the pirate base in Tripoli. Today that will not be possible for numerous reasons of which not at least the most important one is the high mobility of the sea-shifta, who don't care from where they strike, an Island in the Seychelles, a bay in Yemen or from anywhere along the 3300 km long coastline of Somalia, whose downfall and persistent turmoil is not the fault of the impoverished Somalis alone.
However, the night-mare for the 10 sailors of MV CHARELLE is over.

Note to editors:
MV CHARELLE 
Vessel's Details:
Ship Type: Cargo
Year Built: 1985
Length x Breadth: 86 m X 22 m
DeadWeight: 2980 t
Speed recorded (Max / Average): 11.2 / 10 knots
Flag: Antigua Barbuda [AG]
Call Sign: V2RX
IMO: 8506452, MMSI: 304010427
© Ecoterra -


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