Campaign to Free Hostages from Pirates

August 22, 2009

Thanks to my friend Dengre at Daily Kos, the campaign to free the 23 crew members of the MV Irene is reaching more people.

Dengre has put up a post at the Daily Kos and also at The Sanctuary. Thank you Dengre and The Sanctuary for helping us to bring awareness to this urgent situation!

If you follow this blog you must be aware that Joven (Bob) Casas, brother of our friend Gemma Casas, reporter for the Marianas Variety and Australian News Network was captured in April 2009 by Somali pirates. The crew has reportedly run out of water and food.

Dengre wrote:
This effort to call attention to the plight of these workers is being done by friends and family members because it is way too easy for the world to forget about human beings held for ransom by pirates (unless they are Americans).
The MV Irene was captured by pirates on April 14, just two days after the U.S. Navy shot dead three Somali pirates and rescued captain Richard Phillips, an American cargo ship captain who had been held hostage. While a US flagged ship was captured by Pirates the world paid attention and we learned stories about the crew and their troubles. We (and the world) would not rest until these American seafarers were set free.

Unfortunately for the crew of the MV Irene they are not Americans. These workers come from the Philippines. They are part of a massive wave of Filipino citizens leaving their homes to work as foreign contract workers in far-a-way lands to improve the lives of their families. Some went to the sweatshops of Saipan, others to Iraq and some, like the crew of the MV Irene went to sea.

In fact many Filipinos have gone to sea to do the dangerous work of moving cargo around the globe-more than 270,000 of them-about a third of world's workers on the ships that move the raw materials, oil, products and food from point A to point B across the seas are Filipinos. It is dangerous work especially for crews sailing unprotected through Pirate invested waters.

And so the 23 Filipinos who made up the crew of the MV Irene became the expendable workers of just another floating vessel of commerce owned by just another multi-National Corporation (in this case, the Greek shipping firm, Bright Maritime Corp.) moving stuff for profit. The wheels of globalization and global trade turn on the labor of these workers who make these ships move from point to point. In our modern system of globalization these seamen are most often foreign contract workers. When ransoms are paid to the Somali Pirates it is usually first and foremost for the ship and the cargo. The crews when made up of foreign contract workers are expendable. Just as they are in sweatshops, brothels and harvest fields across the globe. The exploitation of workers crossing borders is a dirty secret about the cheap stuff we all have. From toys to clothes to food to well almost anything you can imagine. It is an injustice that is way too easy for Americans to overlook, to rationalize and ignore.

My Diaries about the Abramoff scandal, the culture of corruption and the labor abuses on the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas have been an effort to shine a light on some of these workers being crushed by a global economic system that treats them as expendable as paper towels.

In my research about the Marianas Island I often came across the reporting of Gemma Casas a journalist at the Marianas Variety. It turns out that her brother, Jovan, is one of the crew members held hostage on the MV Irene. Last month she wrote about her brother in an editorial titled, Thoughts: Somalia and Africa:
I last saw my only brother-the oldest among us five children-in January when I went home for vacation in the Philippines.
I saw him a few hours after I arrived in Manila and he was to leave for Singapore where MV Irene EM, a Greek-owned bulk carrier, was waiting for its Filipino crew members.

My brother Joven or Kuya Bob to us is a master electrician at the 35,000-ton ship which was delivering oil and cargo to China, Pakistan and Kenya.

He took a leave from his government job in hopes of starting a new career in the overseas maritime sector before making his early retirement. The current Philippine administration wanted their office abolished anyways.

Shipping companies pay well skilled personnel like my brother. His monthly salary would have been the equivalent of his half-a year wages from the Philippine government.

It was exactly what he needed to send off his oldest daughter, a biology major, to a good medical school and to support his youngest son who is considering to enter the seminary.
She goes on to tell how the ship was captured and how the family learned about it. They learned that as of May about 81 Filipinos seamen had been captured and released by Somali Pirates, but they also learned that the case of the MV Irene was odd. For three months there had been no news about the crew or a ransom demand even though the same shipping company had paid the pirates $1.5 million in the past for another ship held hostage.

They had great concern for the crew as they only had supplies on the ship to last through mid-August and Jovan-who suffers from hypertension-only had enough medication with him to get him through August as well.

As of July the Somali Pirates were holding 14 vessels and four barges for ransom along with 214 seafarers-many of them, like the crew of the MV Irene, foreign contract workers. In many cases with ships owned by multi-National corporations flying under the flag of the most convenient place of registration and a crew made up of foreign contract workers it is unclear who is responsible to negotiate with the Pirates and who is responsible for the safety of the crew, just as it is unclear who should be dealing with the Pirates of Somalia. It seems that there are a lot of entities that can pass the buck and the responsibility for resolving the issue. Meanwhile, the lives of these workers are at risk every minute of every day.

They need our help.

Please join us in appealing to officials to ensure the release of the hostages by signing the petition.

Over time, hundreds of Filipino seamen have been kidnapped by the Somali pirates with their ships. The MV Irene's case is one of the longest hostage situations recorded in Somalia’s history. Listen to Gemma's interview on Radio Australia here.

Other posts on the crew and situation:

Photo of Pirates with the Crew of the MV Irene
Free the crew of the MV Irene
Sign Petition to Free Crew of MV Irene
Responsibility missing in human export equation

Please sign the petition appealing to free the crew of the MV Irene. Become a fan of Liberate Pirate Hostages Facebook page and ask your friends for support in this mission to free the crew of the MV Irene.


Anonymous said...

Thanks to everyone for showing support. We need to make sure that these hostages are not forgotten, and that every effort is made to free them and, after that, to prevent this type of thing from happening in the future.