Dubai's rescued MV Iceberg crew have not been paid

A cargo-ship crew held captive and tortured by Somali pirates for nearly three years have been paid no wages by their employer since before the hijack.

27 year old sailor Jaswinder Singh's father Jagmal Singh (center) stands amongst his extended family as they wait to receive him from the Delhi airport on 29 December 2012 after his release from almost 33 months of being held hostage by Somali pirates who hijacked MV Iceberg 1, a Dubai-owned ship, off the Yemeni coast in March 2010. It was the longest-held hijacked ship until the Puntland Maritime forces released it and 22 crew members on 23 December 2012. Photo by Suzanne Lee / The National
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DUBAI // A cargo-ship crew held captive and tortured by Somali pirates for nearly three years have been paid no wages by their employer since before the hijack.

Many have been paid nothing despite joining the MV Iceberg 1 six months before it was attacked in March 2010, and others received only a month's wages.

The men desperately need cash to pay for treatment of their injuries, including bullet wounds and spinal injuries.

"We are struggling with our health and no one from the shipping company has got in touch with us after we were rescued," said Jewel Ahiable, 33, who suffers from severe joint pain and swollen feet.

"It is very difficult financially and we face many challenges. We are hoping to get a lawyer to find out how we can get our compensation. We deserve to be paid," said Mr Ahiable, from Ghana.

Under the terms of his 10-month contract, which began in September 2009, he was paid half his salary for the first three months and assured of payments every two months.

"Half the first three month's salary was kept as a security in case anyone signed off before the expiration of the contract," said Mr Ahiable, an engineer.

"But after that I didn't receive anything. For almost three years we suffered torture. After being beaten, starved of food, water and sleep, we contemplated escaping or ending our lives. I wish someone would show us some concern."

Harrowing stories of physical and mental abuse emerged from the MV Iceberg I when 22 sailors from India and Ghana were rescued on December 23 last year after a 13-day gun battle and siege of the grounded ship by the Puntland Maritime Police Force.

Two men did not make it home. One depressed Yemeni sailor jumped overboard in October 2010 and an Indian chief officer constantly targeted by the pirates was not seen after September 8, 2011. The pirates also slashed the ears off another Yemeni sailor.

The savagery took a toll on Francis Koomson, 55, who needs weekly hospital visits for a spinal cord injury.

"My father was discharged last week but must go to hospital every week to be monitored," said his son, Francis Jr.

"We need his salary to pay medical bills. We are appealing to the owner first before going to a lawyer."

Swapnil Jadhav, from India, goes to hospital every day for treatment to a bullet wound to his leg.

"The doctors say I can't put any pressure on the leg and I will need skin grafts later," said Mr Jadhav.

"We are talking to the International Trade Federation people in India about our money and hope they can help us."

Most Iceberg crew had signed contracts from six months to a year, and experts said the fine print should be checked as they appeal for their dues.

Azal Shipping Company in Dubai, which owns the Iceberg, refuses to answer telephone and email requests for comment.

The ITF, the international federation of transport workers' unions, has said the vessel was not insured when captured. It also called on Panama, where the ship is registered, to help the crew.

"Given the substantial sums involved in treatment, back pay and aid needed by all the seafarers, we are keen to see governments help too, especially Panama as the flag state," said Sam Dawson, the ITF press officer.

"The ITF is talking to the crew to find out all details of how and by whom they were employed so we can decide if we can help them recover their wages. In the majority of cases decent operators and insurers will continue to pay the wages of the detained crew - which we believe is their entitlement in any event."