US Military: Filipino hostages are still alive

The Casas family posed for a photo before Joven (Bob) Casas left to work on the MV Irene. From left to right: Joven (Bobby), Venus, Gemma & Dave with parents in front.

August 25, 2009

The Philippine Inquirer and ABS-CBN continue the coverage of the hostage situation of the MV Irene. Both sources reported that the hostages aboard the MV Irene are still alive according to satellite photos from the U.S. military. Joven (Bob) Casas brother of our friend, Gemma Casas, is among the hostages aboard the ship. From ABS-CNN:
Gemma Q. Casas, a Filipino journalist based in the Northern Marianas, said US military intelligence sources sent word that the crew of MV Irene crew are “still alive and safe,” allaying their families’ fears that some of them may have died. The ship’s captain had complained last week that food and water provisions had run out.

Her only brother, Joven Q. Casas, is a master electrician on the ship.

Ms. Casas said the U.S. military took a satellite image of the crew. The US, however, has no jurisdiction to intervene in the hostage situation because all crew of the Greek-owned bulk carrier MV Irene EM are Filipinos.

Somali pirates attacked and held the ship hostage on or about April 13, the US military said. Information reaching the Athens-based MV Irene’s mother company, Bright Maritime Corp., shows it was hijacked on the April 14.

HMES Winnipeg of Canada sent a helicopter to the MV Irene’s location when it was attacked, but the pirates were quick in capturing the ship.

The Canadian ship is scheduled to return this week to Winnipeg, where Casas’ younger sister, Divrose, is based.

International campaign

The Casas family and the families of the other victims, including American human rights advocate Wendy Doromal, are appealing to the Philippine government, the United Nations, the African Union, and other international organizations, to intervene for the immediate release of the hostages.

The pirates are demanding US$2.8 million, but the shipping firm is having difficulty raising the money.

“I hope my son comes out alive of this hostage situation,” said Mrs. Erlinda Casas, a 68-year-old retired government employee. “This is a tragic incident and no family should suffer the same. The Philippine government should lead the fight against international sea piracy. After all, one-third of merchant sailors around the world are from the country. These men and women need the protection of their government especially in times of adversity.”

Doromal said the international community should unite to fight international sea piracy.

“The international community needs to unite to end the piracy off the coast of Somalia to ensure that the world's seafarers are protected. This is not merely an economic issue, but more importantly, it is a human rights issue,” said Doromal.

Facebook page

Doromal and other cause-oriented sympathizers of the hostages of the Somali pirates have set-up a page on Facebook—Liberate Somali Pirate Hostages—dedicated to the plight of MV Irene and the growing problem on terror at sea.

“I appeal to the public to join our grassroots effort in signing the petition and contacting officials to demand the release of the hostages of the MV Irene, E.M. and other pirated vessels,” said Doromal.

The online petition to free the crew of the MV Irene can be accessed at

The family of MV Irene’s captain, Necitas Garcia, is also appealing for the international community’s intervention. Garcia’s 21-year-old nephew is also among the hostages.

The Necitas family of Tanauan, Batangas, about 55-km. south of Manila, said the captain, who is already in his mid-50s, was supposed to be married for the first time had MV Irene arrived home as scheduled last month.

The other crew members are from the provinces of Iloilo, Quezon, and Cebu. Some are also from Metro Manila.

One of longest crises

MV Irene’s hostage crisis is one of the longest in Somalia’s history.

Somalia spiraled to chaos after its last known government was overthrown in 1991. The country gained independence from Britain in 1960. About 700 Somalis attempt to cross Kenya every day to seek refuge in the Dadaab Refugee Camp.

In 1992, the U.S. sent USS Lummus to the country to feed hundreds of Somalis who were stricken by severe famine due to drought.

Different rebel groups now run most of Somalia even though a transitional federal government was recently recognized by the United Nations.

The International Maritime Bureau, a non-profit organization helping fight sea piracy, said the number of ships attacked this year has doubled.

According to its latest report, a total of 78 vessels were boarded by pirates worldwide, 75 vessels fired upon, and 31 vessels hijacked. A total of 561 crew were taken hostage, 19 injured, seven kidnapped, six killed, and eight missing.
The Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs said that negotiations to free the hostages continue. ABS-CBN reported:
Talks are ongoing for the release of 22 Filipino seamen whose ship, MV Irene, was seized by armed Somali pirates five months ago off the Gulf of Aden.

Foreign Affairs Undersecretary for Migrant Workers Affairs Esteban Conejos told ANC's On the Scene on Monday, "All I can say is the talks are on-going, the seamen are all in good physical condition."

In addition to the 22, there are 20 other Filipino seamen held captive by Somali pirates. Thus, there are a total of 42 Filipino seamen on board 3 ships who have yet to be released.

"My appeal to the families...I know it's difficult at this time, give us more time. Government is working double time on these cases. Hopefully, the results that we were able to obtain in the previous cases will also be the same in these 3 remaining cases," Conejos said.

Asked about the health condition of the seamen, Conejos said he can assure the family members "that they are in touch with the crew, and we have been assured that they are in good physical condition."

"There is no point in negotiation if we are not able to demonstrate that the crew is safe," he added. "We have that assurance, we are able to confirm that. Yes, that's why we are going on with the negotiations."

Conejos said that since the spike of piracy in Somalia started in March 2006, a total of 389 Filipino seamen have been held hostage, and 347 have been released.
The Philippine Inquirer commented on the urgent condition of the crew:
Last week, Casas also told Philippine media that the ship captain complained last week they have no more food and water, causing the families to worry.
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!

Other posts on the crew and hostage situation of the MV Irene:


Anonymous said...

Thanks for posting this, Wendy!

Anonymous said...

No way a large war ship can leave nor return to Winnipeg... That's why you yanks lost the War of 1812. Geography... geography.. geography.
Good reporting otherwise.