After nearly three years in captivity, the crew of the MV Iceberg I was finally freed after a heroic rescue from the Puntland Maritime Police Force.
This security body, loyal to the semi-autonomous region of Somalia, Puntland, has been a key player in the internal battle against Somali pirates. Often referred to by their acronym, the PMFP, the marines were locked into a conflict with pirates for nearly two weeks before freeing the hostages.
Twenty-four people were held captive aboard the vessel, which was hijacked in late March, 2010. Most hostages were kept aboard the Iceberg, but some were moved on-land for periods of time, but eventually returned to the ship.
Geral Gonzaleves is a 31 year old sailor from the Philippines. He shared his thoughts on the ordeal:
“We thought nobody was coming to check if we were alive, but I did not lose hope because I believe that if you are alive there is hope. Now we are secure and no more in the hands of the pirates.”
He also told the press of the circumstances of their capture:
“I was sleeping after my duty and woke up to the ship’s alarm. I saw the pirates circling the ship and shooting at us. They were raining us with bullets. For about 30 minutes we tried to avoid them. The captain tried maneuvering the ship but everyone was afraid since they were eight men armed with fully automatic guns.”
Gulbasha Shahzada, a 42 year-old Pakistani seamen said his family was looking forward to his return home: “We feel like we have been given a new life. We went through a lot of torture and all the crew were beaten at some point. These three years we only met with cruelty and abuse. But finally, thanks to the Puntland Force, we are seeing some helpful and kind people after a long time.”
Ganesh Mohite, a 26 year-old crewmember from India recounted the torture the crew went through: “They hit us with wooden planks and long wires and they never let us sleep at night. They hurt us a lot but now we are free today.”
The crew was also put through substantial psychological torture as well. The pirates constantly psychologically abused their hostages, informing them that their countries, families and company had completely given up on them.
Although in bad physical condition, all crewmembers are expected to recover, coming through the ordeal in relatively healthy condition, considering the circumstances. For now, they have been transported to regional medical facilities for examination and recovery.