Exiled Russian maritime expert and journalist Mikhail Voitenko’s Maritime Bulletin has published an open letter written by the wives of four seamen still held onboard the cargo ship Arctic Sea, sailing somewhere in the Atlantic. The letter was addressed to the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF), the International Committee of the Red Cross, as well as the governments of Russia, Spain, Malta, and Finland.
We, wives of four seamen of the merchant vessel Arctic Sea, appeal to all international organisations: the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF), the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), the governments of Russia, Spain, Malta, and Finland. We are crying for your help!
Today, 24 September 2009, it is exactly two months since pirates hijacked the Arctic Sea. On 17 August 2009, the ship’s crew was released by the Russian Navy. However, four people – the captain, chief engineer, second engineer, and boatswain – were left on the ship to “ensure its operability.”
For ten days, our husbands waited for the arrival of a group of investigators from the Russian General Prosecutor’s Office. We had no telephone contact with our husbands. According to our information, the group of investigators stayed onboard the ship for ten days. In the course of their investigation, they found no prohibited cargo on the ship, just timber.
The seamen are not accused of anything, yet they have been victimized. On 19 September 2009, the group of investigators left the ship, and all connection with the ship was lost. Up until then, our husbands managed to call us around four times for one to one and a half minutes at a time. Since 18 September 2009, we have had no connection with the ship and our husbands.
During our brief conversations, we learned that the physical condition of our husbands is bad: the captain has had a sore arm for a month, the chief engineer complains of constant headaches, while the second engineer and the boatswain suffer from severe back pains. The ship’s water reserves are scarce: they only get cold water for ten minutes per day, and the food is meagre. All four suffer from stress; the effects of having been held captive for a whole month and another month without any information are beginning to exact a toll.
Two months have now gone by. Yet neither Russia, nor Malta, Finland, or Spain have taken responsibility for bringing the ship to shore, freeing the seamen, bringing a replacement crew (which is ready to fly over at any time), and bringing the seamen back home. The crew are victims, and they should therefore be home or in hospital under the care of doctors.
We are being told that our husbands are not being held against their will. Yet how can they as Russian citizens leave the ship without passports and valid visas? (Their passports were destroyed by the pirates.) Our husbands are veteran sailors who are quite aware of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea of 1982, according to which they have no right to leave the ship in the current situation. We cannot, however, understand why should the seamen – civilians – maintain the ship’s operability and look after the “timber” onboard for two whole months without pay!
A few words about us. Our families have been suffering under feverish pressure for two months. For a whole month, we prayed God to save our seamen, and have now been waiting for the situation to clarify for yet another month.
All this time we, the wives of the four seamen, have had to endure serious health problems: the captain’s wife was hospitalised for two weeks because of neurological problems; the boatswain’s wife was hospitalised for three weeks because of hypertension; the wife of the second engineer is still in hospital because of a severe ulcer; and the wife of the chief engineer had to cancel her planned operation until such time as her husband returns.
The situation is in a stalemate. We have been waiting for a resolution for a long time: we contacted the ship’s owner and the authorities. The only people who did not remain indifferent to the situation was the Northern branch of the Russian Seamen’s Union. We, four desperate wives and our children, appeal to all relevant human rights officials to help our families and assist in repatriating our loved ones.
Yelena Zaretskaya, wife of the captain,
Irina Kuznetsova, wife of the second engineer,
Viktoria Shumik, wife of the chief engineer,
Lidia Volova, wife of the boatswain
Arkhangelsk, Russia, 24.09.2009
Открытое письмо родственников 4-х моряков на борту Arctic Sea
Морской Бюллетень, 24.09.2009