Free Hostages from the MV Irene EM

Joven (Bob) Casas before he left to work on the MV Irene EM. The vessel was captured by Somali pirates 5 months ago. Also pictured are his son, Job and wife, Yolly. Photo provided by Gemma Casas.

Many of us have been following the story of Joven (Bob) Casas, brother of Marianas Variety reporter, Gemma. Joven was among 23 Filipino seafarers to be captured by pirates off of the coast of Somalia 5 months ago.

This following press release has been picked up by various media outlets including ABS-CBN, Philippine Star, and Australia Network News. Hopefully, more networks will pick up the story and bring attention to the plight of the 23 Filipino seafarers who were were captured off of the coast of Somalia so they can be safely rescued.

Please join us in appealing for their release. (There are links listed after the story.) A Facebook page and petition will be put up soon and I will link to them.

Press Release:

23 Filipinos languishing in the hands of Somali pirates

Families of victims appeal for Philippine government’s help

Manila, Philippines—More than 20 Filipino seamen have been languishing for five months now in the hands of Somali pirates aboard their hijacked ship, MV Irene EM, off the Gulf of Aden near Somalia, Africa, with very little food and water supplies.

The families of the victims are appealing to the Philippine government to step up the pressure on the shipping firm and authorities to negotiate for the immediate release of the seamen or secure help from the international community to rescue the kidnapped crew of the MV Irene.

MV Irene is a 35,000-ton oil tanker owned by Bright Maritime Corp., a major Greek shipping firm. The Somali pirates hijacked the ship on April 14, 2009 off the Gulf of Aden, a treacherous area for foreign vessels.

The hijacking took place two days after the U.S. military successfully rescued Richard Phillips, the captain of the U.S-flagged Maersk Alabama container ship. Three Somali pirates were killed in that daring rescue mission.

NATO received a distress call from the St. Vincent and the Grenadines-flagged merchant about the MV Irene hijack incident on April 14. A Canadian warship sent a helicopter to investigate what was happening but it was too late. After MV Irene was hijacked, four more ships were captured in the Gulf of Aden that week.

Gemma Q. Casas, a Filipino journalist based in the U.S. Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands in the Pacific, said she last saw her 43-year-old brother, Joven, in January when she went home for vacation. Her brother, a master electrician at the ship, left for Singapore on the same day she arrived.

MV Irene picked up its crew in Singapore and headed to China and then to Pakistan before going to the Middle East. Kenya is the final stop of the ship’s six-month tour of duty.

She said her brother last spoke to her sister-in-law, Yolly Casas, when the ship made a brief stop-over in Amman, Jordan—that was a week before the pirates staged the hijacking.

“I hope the Philippine government does something about the case of the MV Irene crew. Their ordeal has been dragging for five long months now. We don’t know how long these victims can still sustain the mental and physical stress they are suffering from the hands of the Somali pirates,” she said. “Must we wait for them to be dead before we do something?”

The ship’s captain, Necitas Garcia, who was allowed by the pirates to call his family via a satellite phone, said they have no more food and water.

He told his family many of the crew members are sick or in state of desperation. He said they even have to collect water dripping from the ship’s air-con just so they could have something to drink.

The pirates, who are armed with AK-47 and other sophisticated weapons, have kept the crew aboard the ship somewhere in the Gulf of Aden. The ship’s food and water supplies ran out as early as last month, according to Garcia.

Gemma Casas said the Philippine government, which calls the overseas Filipino workers “new heroes,” for keeping the country’s economy afloat with the billions of dollars they remit every year, should help the kidnapped seamen just like what the Indian government did, or at least negotiate for their immediate release.

In July, the Indian Navy, with the help of the French government, rescued 12 Indian sailors from the Somali pirates. The rescue mission came within days after their captivity.

“Piracy in Somalia and that of the MV Irene’s case isn’t just about the kidnapped seamen and their families’ crisis. This is about global maritime security that the international community should address to protect people, their livelihood, access to food and oil, and the right to live in a peaceful world,” said Gemma Casas.

“Anarchy and poverty prevails in many countries in Africa like Somalia. They have become perfect breeding grounds for crimes and terrorists who are just waiting for an opportunity to attack the rest of us and their own, no matter our distance,” she added.

Mary Ann Entrampas, wife of the ship’s chief engineer, Leo Entrampas Sr., said she last spoke to her husband on April 12. She too is appealing to the Philippine government to help the crew of the MV Irene.

“We are really getting worried. It’s been five months since they were captured. We hope the Philippine government does something about this hostage situation,” said Mrs. Entrampas who is based in Cebu City. The couple have four children—three girls and a boy.

Reports indicate piracy has become a lucrative source of livelihood among many Somalis since the 1990s when Somalia experienced political and social unrest. Chaos and anarchy rule in the country which inspired the movie “Black Hawk.”

Authorities said about 50 percent of the ransom paid by the shipping companies goes to the Somali government, 25 percent goes to the pirates and the rest is used to buy weapons and ammunitions, mostly from Russia.

In January, Somali pirates hijacked Sirius Star, a giant Saudi oil tanker. The ship’s owner reportedly paid $20 million for its release—the pirates' single biggest loot so far.

Analysts estimate the Somali pirates earn as much as $150 million a year for hijacking foreign vessels.

About a third of merchant sailors around the world are Filipinos. In 2007, the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration said shipping companies deployed 389,607 Filipino seamen worldwide, accounting for over $2.6 billion of remittances to the country.

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.

See also this post, Responsibility Missing in human export equation.

Please join us in requesting immediate action to secure the release of Gemma's brother, Joven and the other crew members aboard the MV Irene E.M by contacting:

President Gloria Macapacal Arroyo
Republic of the Philippines
(Direct email contact)

Alberto Rolumu
Republic of the Philippines
Department of Foreign Affairs
2330 Roxas Boulevard
Pasay City, Philippines
Tel. No. (632) 834-4000

President Barack Obama (email contact)
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Ave NW
Washington, DC 20500

Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR)
Palais des Nations
CH-1211 Geneva 10, Switzerland
Telephone: +41 22 917 90 00

Human Rights Watch
350 Fifth Avenue, 34th Floor
New York, NY 10118-3299
Tel: 1-(212) 290-4700

Amnesty International
1 Easton Street
Telephone: +44-20-74135500
Fax number: +44-20-79561157

Email to NATO

Embassy of the Philippines in Greece
26 Antheon Street
Paleo Psychico
Athens, Greece 15452
Tel. Nos.: (210) 6721883 / (210) 6721837 / (210) 6721869
Fax. No.: (210) 6721872
E-mail: /

Photo: Casas family from left to right: Joven (Bobby), Venus, Gemma & Dave with parents in front.


captain said...

I beg to differ in your statement about the MV Irene detainment length being the longest. A couple of weeks ago they released an Egyptian (If I remember correctly)a vessel that had been held for 8 months.

The Philippine Govt should be going after the owners of the vessel.
As I stated before, most of the vessel owners don't care about the crew, as most vessels use foreign crew.
In situations like this, it is how much the vessel is worth to the owners.(not the welfare of the crew)
Greek vessels have been known notorious for being barley seaworthy, with the worse maintenance and crew living condition known in the modern world.
Through the years (when I was keeping track)in Honolulu alone many Greek vessels were detained by the US Coast Guard and not allowed to leave port until many safety and health issues were fixed.(there is few US port of calls by Greek vessels anymore)
Some of the detained vessels in Honolulu were ultimately scrapped and towed to Asia to be cut up as the repairs where too costly to repair.

I sympathize with the crews' dilemma, but the reality is, this is a small vessel in regards to oil tankers, the owners MIGHT figure this is not worth the ransom demanded by the Pirates.
There is a possibility they may have also told the Pirates to just keep the vessel and release the crew.
IF this was in fact the case, the pirates do not want a vessel as what would they would do with it. They could not get much money for a stolen vessel, possibly only just for the oil.

Recently another crew of a fishing boat that had been detained many months used machete, steel bars etc. to over power the Pirates and sailed away with some dead and 9 captive pirates onboard.
Unless the International military force in that region starts to "storm" these vessels and take them back this will go on and there is a possibility that the ransoms may just stop being paid and the crews left to their fate.

I truly hope for the return and well being of this and the other crews as I also have many close friends of different nationalities working on vessels around the world and would not want to see any of them in this situation.

Anonymous said...

This is more than an academic debate. Our heart goes out to Gemma, her brother, all of the other crew members and their families. Let's do what we can to keep the pressure on those in a position to do something.

Wendy said...

Yes, please help us to appeal for the release of Gemma's brother and the crew of the MV Irene. We will post a link to a Facebook site where you can sign a petition soon.

Thanks so much.

Anonymous said...

Why isn't the PI sending in an armed rescue team to blow the heads off of the pirates and save the crew? The US sent in a SEAL team, they put those three black dots in their sights and blew their skinny little heads off.

Anonymous said...

The PI has it's hands full nowadays as Pres Arroyo is determined to wipe out the Abu Sayaff before her term is up. She has promised this in the past.She has again ordered their irradication. There is now heavy fighting in the southern island of Mindanao. Many casualties on both sides and the IMLF have been involved helping the Abu's as many of these ywo groups are related by marriage.

I think that maybe only the nation that owns the ship is allowed to attack and get back the ship once the ship has been captured.(I may be wrong)But I do not think that much plans has been laid out in this international patrol of this area. Some Nations just disarm and let the Pirates go while others send them to their countries for trial and others turn them over to another African nation.
But it would be good if somebody could "storm the ship night time and take it back but there probably would mean some, if not all of the crew would be killed if one mistake is made.