MV Ariana Crew Despairs After Four Months As High Seas Hostages

KIEV, Ukraine -- The 24 Ukrainians held hostage off the Somali coast since May know what their lives are worth to the sea pirates who kidnapped them: $5 million, price negotiable.

MV Ariana

The crew members of the MV Ariana cargo ship also have a good idea what will happen to them if nobody meets the ransom demands of their kidnappers.

One of the two female crew members, Larysa Salinska, who suffered a miscarriage in captivity, put it this way in an interview with the Kyiv Post: “I have a feeling that no one needs us, like we are waste material which they can step over as they do their business,” she said indignantly.

In an extraordinary telephone call to the ship on Aug. 30, arranged through an intermediary, the Kyiv Post talked to Salinska, as well as the ship’s captain, a third crew member and the leader of the pirates holding the Ariana crew.

Their lives are grim, as one would expect from two dozen people held captive for four months. The duration of their imprisonment is perhaps itself a record in the spate of high seas piracy that has taken place off the lawless eastern coast of Africa in recent years. They are believed to be adrift on the Indian Ocean about 100 kilometers from the coastal village of Hobyo, in the Galmudug region of Somalia.

Salinska suffered a miscarriage during her sixth month of pregnancy and urgently needed help. But the pirates even showed her little mercy.

“I was bleeding like a tap. I thought I would die from bleeding,” Salinska, 39, the ship’s cook, said tearfully. “I was begging on my knees to at least arrange for a conversation with a doctor. He [pirate] allowed two phone calls and said it was my only chance. But no one has even provided for a gynecologist to call me.”

The crew members described an unending ordeal of fear, hardship and frustration. They are upset that Ukrainian authorities and the ship’s owner haven’t been able to secure their release. The Greek vessel, sailing under a Maltese flag, was seized north of Madagascar with a cargo of 10,000 tons of soya beans on May 2. It was en route from Brazil to Iran.

“President [Victor Yushchenko] promised a commission [to help us], they promised help and nothing at all [has happened]. I have two kids at home, so I must come back alive,” said Salinska, whose husband is with her on the Ariana. (On May 5, a spokesperson for Yushchenko said the president ordered the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to cooperate with nations and international organizations in securing the crew’s freedom.)

MV Ariana’s owner, Greek-based All Oceans Shipping, said its representatives were negotiating the crew's release.

“It’s not true [that we don’t negotiate]. We talk by phone. In fact, negotiations are going smoothly,” said Captain Spyros Minas, the Athens-based director of the company. Minas said the company has had contact with the crew when the pirates allow it. He also said that, to his knowledge, the two women on board “were OK.”

Minas refused to discuss the ransom amount in deference to “the safety of the crew.”

However, the seized ship's captain, hostage Genadiy Voronov, was not happy with the negotiations. He thought that All Oceans Shipping offered to pay $820,000, a sum rejected.

Voronov described the conditions as atrocious.

“We are not allowed to move around the ship. The whole crew is in one cabin,” Voronov said. “Half of the crew came down with colds and we keep passing them to each other. They [pirates] give us some rotten rice and that’s all we eat here. A couple of kilos a day for 24 people. No fresh water to drink or to wash up.”

He said that the ship’s mechanic, Volodymyr Streshniy, was beaten up and “may have had a concussion. He was nauseous, lacked coordination and was generally weak. For two or three days, he could not get up from the deck. He's better now,” Voronov said.

Salinska also said water and food were bad. “When you are hungry, you will eat anything – rotten rice or rustic water, but I can’t. The boys eat it though. The water provided is red. We try to filter it through cotton wool or any way we can. It’s a savage life.”

Another female on board, Natalia Los, described conditions as “very bad.” Los said the chief pirate sometimes talked to them and reported “that there are no negotiations and that no one cares for us.”

The Kyiv Post talked to Muhammed, described by the crew as the pirate’s leader. “There are no negotiations at all. My condition is $5 million and [I will] negotiate,” he said “If not, we will kill the crew. Why not? Without diesel, without food, what can I do for them?”

A spokesman for Ukraine’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Vasyl Kyrylych, described the negotiation process as difficult. There is no provision in the Ukrainian law to empower officials to engage in talks or pay ransom in cases of piracy.

Some of the families of the hostages have refused to comment publicly, out of fear that they may damage the chances of freedom for their loved ones.

Galyna Fut, whose husband is held captive at Ariana, said their hopes rest with the ship’s owner. “We approached different organizations but no one would help us. The only opportunity to save them is for the ship owner to pay the pirates,” Fut said.

A regional anti-piracy envoy in Somalia, Ismail Haji Noor, said he wanted the ship out of his waters. Noor approached the Kyiv Post with the offer for a telephone link to the ship to “help the innocent seamen.”

Noor said the government is trying to rid the Somali coast of pirates.

“The pirates are small in number. The whole of Somali is not pirates. It’s not in our culture or something we believe in our religion,” he said. “The community is fed up with them because they bring prostitution and alcohol.”

Noor said the pirates from the Ariana were from the Habar Gidir clan in the Galmudug territory. As an envoy, he said he would try to secure release of the two women held hostage through the clan elders.

The ship’s owner, Minas, questioned Noor’s intentions and said he might actually hinder the delicate talks with the pirates. “We know from other vessels, from previous experiences, that when he is involved in the case, the negotiations take longer,” said Minas.

Ariana captain Voronov warned against any military operation to save him and the rest of the crew. He pleaded, however, for Ukrainian government intervention. “The minute they [pirates] see a ship at a distance, they summon us to the deck and keep us at gunpoint,” he said.

Prior to Ariana, Somali gunmen hijacked the Ukrainian MV Faina crew of 20 people on Sept. 25, releasing its members on Feb. 4. Their imprisonment ended after a $3.2 million ransom was paid, primarily by Ukrainian billionaire Victor Pinchuk.

Source: Kyiv Post