Crew of hijacked MISC ships back home safely (updated)

KUALA LUMPUR: The 80 crew members of MT Bunga Melati Dua and MT Bunga Melati Lima arrived in Subang on a chartered flight at 4.15am Saturday.

Members of the press were tipped off that the crew would be flying in from East African port of Djibouti, and waited at the KL International Airport (KLIA) since 1am Saturday. They later rushed over to Subang Jaya at 6am when sources confirmed that the crew had arrived at a hotel there.

Pressmen were greeted at the hotel with tight security from MISC personnel who prevented them from getting to the ballroom where the crew members were.

At a press conference later on Saturday, some of the crew members spoke about their experiences.

Captain M. Maheswaran said a gun was pointed at his head on many occasions but 12 days after his vessel was hijacked by pirates, he figured that none of his crew members would be harmed.

The captain of MT Bunga Melati Lima, one of the two MISC Bhd vessels seized by Somali pirates in the Gulf of Aden in August, said the pirates were simply trying to scare him and his crew.

“They were pointing it (the gun at me) when they threatened to ground the vessel and tried to rush the owner (MISC) to make a quick decision.

“When I relayed the message to the MISC headquarters, I panicked but they did not actually harm me,” he said.

He said there was no physical abuse against the crew by the pirates, who simply threatened to kill and bring the sailors to shore.

However, Maheswaran said after a 12-day observation he came to the conclusion that the pirates were not going to kill any of his crew members.

“Whatever they were going to do was to get the ransom and if any death were to occur, it would be accidental.

“We are very thankful because we saw God in many forms throughout the ordeal and now we are brought home safely to our families,” he said.

Maheswaran’s colleague Yusof A. Hamid, a bosun on MT Bunga Melati Lima, said he was allowed to pray and fast during the fasting month when the vessel was seized.

Nuzaihan Abd Rani, a second officer on MT Bunga Melati Dua, said Filipino Jayson Dumagat, the only casualty in the incident, was pronounced dead the same day the ship was attacked on Aug 19.

“The pirates, who were carrying pistols, AK 47 rifles and rocket-propelled grenades, fired a warning shot which unfortunately ricochetted off the ceiling and penetrated his head. It was an accidental death,” he said.

MISC president and chief executive officer Datuk Shamsul Azhar Abbas said the body of the deceased was sent home to Manila, together with 15 other Filipinos on a 10.30am flight on Saturday.

He said the most difficult part during the negotiation process was to ensure that they dealt with the right party.

“There are plenty of things we can learn from the episode and we have more or less decided to introduce a new piracy management module at our Malaysian Maritime Academy,” he said.

He said new recruits would be trained and lectured on what to expect in dealing with piracy and the management of the media and parents.

On why the media was prevented from talking to the crew members on their arrival, he said: “This is because the crew had been away from their family for so long and our prime objective was to reunite them with their families.”

He said the company was providing counselling services to both the crew members and their parents for a period of three to six months.

When asked how long the crew would be on leave, he said it all depended on their request and the priority was to ensure their full recovery.

MT Bunga Melati Dua, with 29 Malaysians and 10 Filipinos onboard, was hijacked at 10.09pm on Aug 19, while MT Bunga Melati Lima, with 36 Malaysians and five Filipinos onboard, was hijacked in Yemeni territorial waters at 9.50pm on Aug 29.

The ships were released by Somali pirates after a ransom was paid. Media reports claimed the firm had paid US$2mil (RM6.9mil) ransom for the release of each vessel.