My Brother Is Being Held By Somalian Pirates
By Ranee Mohamed
Nihal Surasena has tried all avenues from his humble home in Kaduwela to reach out to his brother Sarath Surasena (58). But no one has been able to clear the path that leads to his brother who is crying out for help from a Somalian desert.
Without food, water and shelter, Sarath Surasena, who is a patient, is at risk, says his brother, Nihal.
Sarath Surasena and nineteen other crew members are being held by Somalian Pirates since December 2010 after their ship, MV Orna was highjacked.
“There was a time when we were told that he had been shot dead. But then again,to our great relief we heard that the shooting was among the pirates and that my brother was not injured in that incident,” said Sarath Surasena with desperation in his eyes.
Nihal and Sarath Surasena, both engineers by profession had once worked happily in the company that belonged to older brother Nihal.
However in search of greener pastures, Sarath Surasena had flown to Dubai where the head office of the ship MV Orna was situated. From there he sailed the blue seas onboard the MV Orna, working as the ship’s engineer.
Just as the mighty ocean flowed, without noticeable turbulence, life had gone on, without incident.
Sarath had consoled himself through the endless seas, that he will one day reach those shores where his heart and mind would bask in warmth and love.
But that day never came, for in December 2010, Sarath was to call his wife and tell her that their ship and crew were captured by Somali pirates. Sarath’s plea had been to keep his brother informed.
“We were trying to call back on the number but there was no answer. We were so worried about him. Then in desperation, we called the shipping company and they confirmed that the ship was hijacked by Somali pirates off the Indian Ocean,” explained Nihal Surasena.
“Though the ship was nearing India, the captors had then taken the ship back to Somalia,” said Nihal Surasena.
However desperate Nihal Surasena’s family had been, there had been no information about the fate of Sarath Surasena. “We kept telephoning the shipping company. Each time we were told that they were negotiating. We were told that it will happen ‘next month.’ This had gone on for six months. Each time we called the shipowner we were told that they were negotiating,” said a desperate Nihal Surasena.
It is learnt that Engineer Sarath Surasena and 19 other members of the crew had been captured allegedly by Somalian pirates. An initial ransom of US Dollars 4.5 million had been demanded for the release of the ship and her crew.
“At the last moment, the deal had failed and the shipowner blamed the pirates for increasing the ransom demand from a negotiated U.S. dollars 1.35 million to U.S. dollars 4.5 million. The shipowner had originally agreed to a sum of US dollars 2.0 milion, however, the intervention of the Sri Lankan consulate office had resulted in the pirates reducing the amount to U.S. dollars 1.35 million,” said Nihal Surasena.
Sadly, the deal had fallen apart. “The shipowner did not respond to our calls or messages nor was there any communication from the mediator,” said Nihal Surasena.
In January 2011, Nihal Surasena had received a telephone call from a Somalian who had told him that as there was no response from the shipowner the pirates had decided to take some of the crew members to the desert – among them was Sarath Surasena.
It was thereafter that Nihal Surasena had been in touch with a mediator – and another person called Chama who identified himself as a journalist who had access to the hostages and the Somalian Pirates.
When The Sunday Leader telephoned Chama on Thursday (29) he said that Sarath Surasena and the others in the desert are undergoing very bad times. “There are people from Seychelles, Syria and Germany in this desert. There is a lot of shooting. Things are very bad here, you cannot imagine how bad it is. It is very, very bad here.You have to save these people…,” said Chama speaking from the Somalian desert.
According to Nihal Surasena, the 19 crew members on MV Orna are Syrians.
“My brother spoke to me on March 25. He told me that the wind is unbearable and that they do not have enough food, nor a roof over their heads. He told me that he could not endure what he is made to go through,” said Nihal Surasena in tears.
Sarath Surasena had also told his brother that the pirates are getting ‘violent’ and that he could not endure it.
“I have been pleading with the pirates to release the hostages on humanitarian grounds especially considering the age and health of my brother. But there has been no favourable reply,” said Nihal.
After hearing his brother’s voice last week, on March 25, Nihal Surasena had sent a message via his telephone again to the shipowner.
From Nihal to shipowner: “My bro called me. Pirates are getting violent. Let me know max affordable amount. I am talking to them in two hours”.
From shipowner to Nihal: “You don’t need to interfere in my negotiation. You can make the deal yourself”.
From Nihal to shipowner: “I don’t enter into your negotiations but I have right to safeguard the life of my brother. We have been listening to you for the last 15 months”.
From shipowner to Nihal: “OK go ahead and do it if you think you can do better. But bear in mind every time you listen to and let them feel your worries, they delay approving my offer which means delay in freedom”.
From Nihal to shipowner: “I am a pro loss adjuster. I haven’t shown my worries. I only indicate your inability to pay the increased ransom and to reduce the amount. If you let me know the amount I can tell the amount. I have told them about the assistance from our government to Somali people”.
From Nihal to shipowner “ I offered 1.4 (million US. Dollars) they demand 1.5 (million US dollars). You need to respond positively. It is the life of 19 people.
Ship owner to Nihal “You will pay”. With all negotiations and hopes at a standstill, Nihal Surasena says he has nowhere to go and nothing to do. “I am so thankful to the our Ambassador Sarath Wijesinghe and to Mr. Rashim for their interest in getting my brother released,” said Nihal Surasena. But all efforts have failed, and Sarath Surasena never came home. Having learnt that the consignment of 27,000 tonnes of coal that MV Orna was carrying has been paid for via the insurance, Nihal’s worry and heartache is linked across the seas with those of the families of the 19 other crew members of the MV Orna.
Will they ever cross the desert and come back home?