June 25th of this year is being celebrated as the “Day of the Seafarer.” We will be joining with other bloggers and journalists from around the world to say ”thank you” to the world’s 1.5 million seafarers for the invaluable and often overlooked contribution that they make every day. Kipling once write that “transportation is civilization.” Seafarers play a key role in keeping our civilization alive and functioning.
One of the ways to show our appreciation is to acknowledge the problems still faced by seafarers. When things go wrong, it is usually the seafarer who suffers first and the most. We can think of no better example of this than the nightmare faced recently by the crew of the Sahmo Dream.
The Samho Dream is a South Korean owned, Marshall-Island flagged VLCC. It was carrying oil from Iraq to the United States with a crew of five South Koreans and nineteen Filipinos, when it was hijacked by Somali pirates on April 4, 2010.
For the next seven months, the crew of the Samho Dream was held hostage by the pirates. The ship and the crew were finally released after the payment of a record $9.5 million ransom. Not long after the Samho Dream was released, a second ship owned the same firm, the Samho Jewelry, was hijacked by pirates but was freed by South Korean commandos from the destroyer ROKS Choi Young before the pirates could make good their escape. Seok Hae-kyun, captain of the Samho Jewelry was shot and seriously wounded during the rescue.
As difficult as conditions had been for the crew of the Samho Dream, their seven month ordeal was only the beginning. Less than a month after their release from the pirates, Samho Shipping, the company which owns the ship, filed for receivership. The Samho Dream and the Samho Crown, another Samho company ship in drydock with a crew of eleven Indian sailors, were both effectively abandoned in Dubai. Without money for food, bunkers or travel back to their homes, the conditions on the ships quickly became intolerable. In a letter to the firm, the officers and crew described the conditions aboard:
“The ship is not conducive for living anymore. We are suffering a lot. We lost the right to meet the basic needs in order to live. We cannot maintain proper meal time and sometimes we eat spoiled food due to insufficient supply of fuel that runs the generators. We have limited water supply (having 1 hour/day of usage) and no proper toilet to use. Generators are only (for) use at night time and so, it’s very hot during daytime especially since summer is starting now in Gulf,” their email, a copy of which is with Khaleej Times, said. “We understand the company’s (situation). But you should also understand our side. Maybe, we can bear the heat that touches our skin, the spoiled food we eat, washing our laundry and saving water within an hour.
But knowing the situation of our families is not good anymore. We are working here to give our families a good life. How can we give that to them if our salaries and their allotments are not given?
“If you cannot comply your responsibility to us and our families it is so much better to send us home with our SALARIES AND COMPENSATION.
“And all the travel expenses should be shouldered by the company. Let us not wait till something happens here on board because everyone is running out of patience as each one is fighting by himself in order to survive this ordeal…”
The assets of the Samho Shipping are now under the control of seven banks. Fortunately, when no aid came from the owner, local marine firms donated supplies to the stranded crew. International Bunkering Middle East, a Dubai firm, donated provisions including canned and fresh food items to the stranded ship. By the beginning of May, funds were arranged to provide diesel fuel to run the ship’s generator. Finally, following meetings with Wilhelmsen, the Philippine Consulate, the Dubai Marine Police and Dry Docks, survey and insurance body Lloyds and the Marshall Islands, the flag of which the ship is flying, arrangements were made to begin the repatriation of the crew.
The case of the Samho Dream is not typical, but neither is it all that unusual. As piracy becomes just another repeating news story, it is a too easy to forget the seafarers held hostage for long periods under terrible conditions. Likewise when a ship owner fails to meet financial obligations, the crew shouldn’t be the first to suffer.
The tiny bit of good news related to Sahmo Dream saga is that five pirates captured in the hijacking of the Samho Jewelry were recently convicted and sentenced to long prison terms by a Koren court. Several of these pirates were believed to be involved in the hijacking of the Samho Dream.