UNODC’s Hostage Support Programme (HSP) was borne out of a desire to provide crucial support to victims of piracy and out of recognition of the immense human cost of this crime.
The HSP facilitates much needed humanitarian support to piracy hostages held in captivity and works to secure their safe release and repatriation. The HSP also provides a critical line of communication between captive hostages, their families and home States.
The HSP provides medical assistance, accommodation, food, clothes and welfare items to hostages upon their release and where possible, while in captivity. In addition to this, the HSP helps those released to return home expediently, facilitating their travel, documentation and diplomatic support.
The Piracy “Business Model” and Formation of the HSP
The principal modus operandi of pirates operating off the Horn of Africa has been to capture vessels and to take the crew as hostages for ransom.
During the early stages of the current piracy phenomenon (2008-2009), pirates concentrated on hijacking vessels. Over time, the act of taking crew as hostages rose in prominence. This led to the creation of new pirate business models, including splitting hostages into separate groups and transporting them to various onshore locations to impede hostage recovery operations. Opportunistic shore based kidnapping also become more prevalent, such as the kidnapping of two British tourists from a coastal resort in northern Kenya in 2011.
In 2011 the UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General to Somalia (UN SRSG), Augustine Mahiga, undertook to assist Member States in their efforts to recover hostages in Somalia by raising the plight of hostages with the Transnational Federal Government (TFG), along with other leaders inside Somalia.
In direct cooperation with UNODC and the International Organization for Migration (IOM), the United Nations Political Office for Somalia (UNPOS) Counter Piracy Office directly assisted with the repatriation of a group of 14 Burmese hostages released by pirates from Puntland. The lessons learned during this process and the plight of the remaining hostages led to the creation of the HSP, falling under UNODC’s Maritime Crime Programme.
The HSP has 5 activity areas, all of which are funded by the Contact Group for Piracy Off the Coast of Somalia (CGPCS) Trust Fund:
- Objective 1: Monitor and track all hostages held in Somalia (pirate victims and others)
- Objective 2: Provide support while in captivity (to captives and families)
- Objective 3: Facilitate recovery to a safe location
- Objective 4: Assist with repatriation to home country
- Objective 5: Provide victim support post release
Since its inception, the Hostage Support Programme has worked tirelessly, often in challenging conditions, to support piracy hostages in captivity and help secure their release.
In mid-November 2012, the HSP provided advice to the Government of Seychelles on the repatriation of two Seychellois fishermen after a year of captivity in Somalia.
In late November 2012, the HSP provided humanitarian support to 19 hostages, whose release was secured by the Royal Netherlands Navy from a vessel captured by Somali pirates. The HSP provided direct support with the Associate Hostage Release and Repatriation Officer, deploying to Dar Es Salaam in support of the Royal Netherlands Navy and the embassies of the hostages’ home States.
In late December 2012, the HSP coordinated the repatriation of the remaining 22 seafarers from Ghana, India, Pakistan, Philippines, Sudan and Yemen who were held hostage on board the MV Iceberg-1 for more than 1,000 days. For those States that did not have the resources to recover hostages, the HSP chartered a UN Humanitarian Air Support aircraft and two flew to Bosasso to collect the hostages.
On 10 January 2013, one Sri Lankan and two Syrian hostages from the MV Orna were recovered from Mogadishu by the HSP. The Sri Lankan seafarer was flown to Nairobi on a United Nations aircraft, while the two Syrians boarded commercial flights to Beirut. On 12 January 2013, three remaining Syrian hostages were released in Adado, and were flown to Beirut for onward repatriation.
During the second week of March 2013 the MV Smyrni and the MV Royal Grace were released with a total crew of 47 seafarers. The HSP coordinated with EUNAVFOR to monitor the release, and was on stand-by in case the crew needed assistance with their repatriation.
In August and September 2013, the HSP facilitated medical support, including two visits by a doctor, to seafarers from the MV Albedo. This was the first time medical aid had been delivered to a crew in captivity.
In July 2014, the HSP helped secure the release and safe repatriation of 11 hostages from the MV Albedo, together with another 3 hostages held in Somalia.
In July 2014 the HSP facilitated the delivery of medical assistance and a support package of welfare items to four Thai hostages from the Prantalay 12, who are still in captivity.
In September 2014, a German-US journalist was freed after nearly three years in captivity. The HSP provided advice and technical support to the parties involved in facilitating his release, and communicated with the hostage’s family throughout.
The HSP has so far provided humanitarian assistance and support in the recovery and repatriation of over 100 hostages.
Release and Reintegration
For many hostages, the trauma does not end when they return home. Hostages often return to families who have suffered greatly themselves. The strain on the families is not only emotional but also financial, having gone for months of even years without financial support. Hostages themselves are often in a severe state of trauma and have to deal with the difficulties of reintegrating into society, not to mention facing the prospect of returning to work, at sea.
The Hostage Support Programme has recognised the continuing impact upon hostages and has begun a series of follow up visits to victims and their families, with the aim of assisting them obtain their entitlements and provide medical support. The Hostage Support Programme has also conducted post-release interviews to better understand both the methods used by pirates and also the unique stresses placed on victims.
Since the piracy crisis reached its peak in 2008-2009, rates of successful piracy attacks have steadily declined. However, many hostages still remain in captivity – some for as long as four years – and the important work of the Hostage Support Programme continues with as much urgency as ever.
In its ongoing activities, the HSP works in close collaboration with the Federal Government of Somalia, regional administrations, local leaders, the Maritime Piracy and Humanitarian Response Programme, the European Union, INTERPOL, and concerned Member States to determine the precise details and status of the seafarers and update their families.
Current Hostage Situation
The HSP continues to closely monitor the situation of the remaining hostages in Somalia and offer support and assistance to all stakeholders involved in the efforts to secure their release. As of November 2014, 30 hostages are known to still be held captive. No pirated ships remain held at sea; all have been sunk, beached or released. Crew members from three ships continue to be held hostage on land. These are comprised of:
– FV Naham crew; vessel pirated on 26.03.2012. The original crew was comprised of 29 members. Three have tragically died in captivity and 26 remain hostage. UNODC HSP has been able to provide medical support to the remaining hostages in 2014.
– FV Prantalay 12 crew; vessel pirated on 18.04.2010. The original crew was comprised of 24 members. Six members of the crew tragically died in captivity. Fourteen hostages were released after a year in Puntland State of Somalia, and were repatriated home by the UNODC HSP in 2011. 4 Thai nationals remain hostage. The HSP continues to work to provide medical and humanitarian assistance to them.