“CONSTANTA, Romania — The pirate cook smuggled food to the terrified hostages held by his gang off the Somali coast. He bought them cell phone cards. And when the pirates started talking about harvesting their organs for cash, he sneaked them guns.
The hostages killed the pirates and escaped. But now the life of the Somali cook, known only as Ahmed, is in danger. Despite actions the crew described as heroic, European Union nations, Syria and nearby Djibouti have all refused to take him, according to an official who was not authorized to talk.
Ahmed has since disappeared. It is thought to be the first time someone working for the pirates has turned against them to help hostages.
“Sending him back to (Somalia’s) shore would be putting him to death for his compassion,” said John S. Burnett, the author of “Dangerous Waters: Modern Piracy and Terrorism on the High Seas.” “This smacks of a bureaucratic bungle … it’s a line in the sand. No Somali pirate will ever risk showing any modicum of compassion again if he knows he’s not going to get any help from the authorities.”
The tale began Feb. 2, when the pirates hijacked the MV Rim, a Libyan-owned, North Korean-flagged cargo ship in the Gulf of Aden. The crew radioed international navies, but help arrived 15 minutes after the pirates seized the ship. International naval forces patrolling the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean off Somalia generally don’t intervene militarily after pirates take a ship because of the danger to the crew.
During the first two months, the pirates gave food and water to the crew of one Romanian and nine Syrians. But when talks about the $300,000 ransom went nowhere, the pirates grew impatient. The crew got little food or water, Virgil Teofil Cretu, the 36-year-old Romanian crew member, said in an interview in Costanta, Romania.
Cretu, who as the coxswain had steered the ship, and the Syrian sailors drank rainwater and cooked rice in seawater. Their diet was augmented by whatever Ahmed could sneak to them.
Various pirate groups bought and sold the ship and crew, Cretu said. One of the rotating pirate guards was a gun-wielding 13-year-old. Ahmed bought a SIM card to use in a cell phone the crew had hidden from the pirates, so the hostages could speak with relatives.
But the negotiations were not going well. No one from North Korea, Libya or Syria would agree to pay a ransom.”