Sailor dies aboard hijacked Dubai-based ship

Three more crew members from the MV Iceberg I, held for seven months, have taken ill and are in "desperate need of food, water and medicine".

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DUBAI // A Yemeni sailor aboard a UAE-owned ship held by Somali pirates for seven months has died of malnutrition, according to a piracy monitoring group.

The sailor had begun to suffer psychological problems and died on October 27, said a spokesman for Ecoterra Intl.

Three of the remaining 23 crew members of the MV Iceberg I - owned by Dubai-based Azal Shipping - are suffering similar conditions, he said. The crew have run low on food and water and completely out of medicine and generator fuel.

"The sad death of the sailor was apparently a combination of malnutrition and distress. They say they had to strap another sailor down to prevent him from killing himself," the spokesman said. "We would now suggest to send a medical doctor on board."

The MV Iceberg I was hijacked in the Gulf of Aden, an important waterway for international shipping and a growing hotspot for hijacking. The deteriorating security in those waters and off the coast of Somalia form "the heart of the problem" of global piracy, said the International Maritime Organisation (IMO).

Azal Shipping has held negotiations with the hijackers, most recently in September. But the ransom requested far exceeds the amount the owner is willing to pay, the spokesman added. He declined to reveal the amount being sought.

"They are, until now, very far apart from each other in terms of what they want and what the owner is ready to pay," he said. "In a way, they are sometimes talking but they are actually not talking."

Azal Shipping declined to comment.

The pirates recently brought two skiffs on board, suggesting they plan to take the vessel back out to sea. "They use [the crew] as human shields," the spokesman said.

The crew members are from Yemen, India, Ghana, Sudan, Pakistan and the Philippines.

The ship was carrying generators, transformers and empty fuel tanks when it was captured in March by 50 pirates, who repainted the nameSea Express. In May, the US navy destroyer McFaul sighted the vessel and trailed it for 36 hours before returning to its regular duties. The ship was taken to Kulub, in Somalia.

The IMO has recorded 326 acts of piracy and armed robbery so far this year. The rate is set to exceed the 2009 total of 406, which was up from 300 the year before.

Some hostages have been missing for more than a year - including a middle-aged British couple kidnapped last October while sailing on their yacht.