PAG, meet MAG - click image for MAG FB page
In our last MV ICEBERG 1 post, we'd decided to try to mount a petition to apply pressure for the captive crew's release. I'm still working on that, and still need information about how best to direct the petition. Please see that previous post (below) for details on how you can help identify the best ministry/best official in the Indian government for us to target with our petition. I know we have some readers in India, so please chime in!

In the meantime, we've had an excellent suggestion. KC of the Kennebec Captain maritime blog (a very good blog run by a PCTC Master who operates in piracy waters) has suggested that we start a Facebook page called MV Iceberg 1 Mariners Action Group, to let more people know about the hostages and to gather support for them. 

We've done that, and the new Facebook MAG page is live. Please click on over and have a look - "Like" it if you approve, link to it, let others know about it - and I hope you'll use it as a news source about ongoing developments in the MV ICEBERG 1 case, and about piracy in general. 

I also hope that when you run across news, photos or other resources about the hostages that you'll inform the rest of us by leaving a comment on the MAG page with links. This is a community page, so we're depending on you to educate the rest of us with what you know and what you learn! Knowledge is power.

Please give the new Facebook MAG page a try. Feel free to comment on the FB MAG page itself with new MV ICEBERG 1 info, or with suggestions for improving the MAG page and reaching more people. Or, leave your comment right here - don't hold back, your honest input can only improve our outreach. You can help!

Human rights lawyer Ansar Burney - click photo for site
If you've read this blog before, you'll be familiar with the MV ICEBERG I case - 22 survivors out of a crew of 24 men, hailing from six different countries, who have the extremely dubious honor of being the longest-held captives in the history of East African piracy - 127 weeks at this point, and no light at the end of the tunnel. 

You'd think that this very hard-earned distinction would have gotten them some international attention and support by now, but you'd be wrong: not only are the men being ignored by their company, Azal Shipping & Cargo of Dubai, but by their respective governments, human rights organizations, and just about everyone else except their families, who suffer daily agonies along with their captive fathers, husbands and sons. I won't go into the whole case here - click on Iceberg I, Iceberg I Movie, and Iceberg I A. Burney in the Categories column to the right side of the page for previous posts with information and many links to videos and other news about the men. It's a fascinating and shameful story, though unfortunately not an uncommon one. 

Why should you care? If you're a seaman, as are many readers of this blog, then you know that you could be in their shoes one day - hundreds of seamen are captured every year. And if you're any other member of the human community, you know that failing to care dehumanizes those victims - and you, too a little. 

I know that human misery is spread all across our planet, and thinking about the totality of it can be overwhelming - but by the same token, doing something about a piece of it, when you see an opportunity to help, can be one of the most empowering experiences you can have. Moving off dead center to go do a small thing can energize you to do much bigger things than you thought possible. Which God do you worship? I don't think He'd counsel inaction - and neither would your conscience!

One reader who chose to take action is Lauren Phillips - see her comments at the end of the Iceberg I A. Burney post. That post had asked readers whether they knew of any action in the ICEBERG I case since international human rights lawyer Ansar Burney had taken on the case, over a year ago. Lauren took the bull by the horns and tweeted Mr. Burney directly - and she got an immediate answer, saying that he was in fact in UAE talking with ICEBERG I's owners right now. 

Following up on that encouraging response, I contacted Ansar Burney on LinkedIn to ask what the rest of us could do to aid his efforts; I haven't had an answer to that message yet. And also, following Lauren's lead, I tweeted him with the same question. 

Mr. Burney answered, but requested no specific action - just a general call for support. In his second tweet to Lauren he said:  "am also looking International support in this regard to get them release as soon as possible as 2 already committed suicide" and then in response to me: "Sure would love to request with every human lover for their help to get release innocent Crew from Somali Pirates" 

These are pretty innocuous-sounding tweets and were a little disappointing to me at first. But then again, he's apparently in the midst of negotiations at the moment and probably doesn't want to say anything to upset the apple-cart; I'm inclined to give him benefit of the doubt. 

So why don't we take the other ball - his request for help raising international support - and run with it. How could we do that? Aside from what we're doing at the moment - talking about it online, tweeting about it, and generally making people in our own circle aware - is there more effective action we could take?

Lauren has suggested a petition. Have you seen a petition from lately? Several have come into my inbox. is a mechanism for circulating petitions online, and anyone can start one. I think this might be a suitable vehicle, and would certainly get the captive crew's story out to many more people. Here is the site - have a look and see what you think.

The question is: who would we petition? Yemen has the most crew represented among the captives - eight - but I think Yemen would be a less responsive target for a petition, given the challenges that government faces at the moment. 

Captives on ICEBERG I - click photo for another piracy story from The National
India has six crewmembers represented  in the captive crew, and as a democratically governed nation, might be more responsive. I also know that the question of captive Indian nationals in the hands of pirates has generated concern and news coverage there (click photo for representative news story). And India is a large nation that is very influential in the region, with resources they can bring to bear - if they will. Perhaps a petition could encourage them.

If we chose India, to whom in the Indian government should the petition be directed? Someone in the ministry of shipping - or external affairs? Here's where you can help, if you've any experience with Indian government affairs. 

Help us identify a target for our petition - we'll launch it on, and all of us can push it from there.  Our immediate goal will be to help the ICEBERG I's crew, but the pressure should bring greater visibility to all captive seamen.

Can you help direct our petition? Please recommend a ministry and an official that might be able to act on behalf of ICEBERG I's crew. Respond in Comments with your information. I'll be researching the question, too. We'll have another post on the subject in about a week, I hope - sooner if someone has the information we need - and I'll post links to the petition and ways to spread the word. Thanks - and God bless you!

Capt. Francesco Schettino - click photo for gCaptain story
Things look gloomier for Capt. Francesco Schettino, Master of COSTA CONCORDIA. He was released from house arrest some time ago, but still faces charges ranging from manslaughter to misrepresenting his ship's damage to maritime authorities. 

Now new evidence has come to light proving that Schettino purposely lied to the Coast Guard and his own passengers - delaying the ship's evacuation and possibly costing lives.

As you'll remember, 30 people are known dead in the tragedy; two are missing and presumed dead; and 64 were injured. Two passengers and the ship's injured Purser were rescued from the ship more than 24 hours after the accident. 

Schettino was taking the ship close to Giglio Island in a salute or "inchino" manuever which he'd done with COSTA CONCORDIA several times before. Indeed, he claimed in one interview that he'd been told by Costa Cruises to do the maneuver. Costa ships COSTA PACIFICA and COSTA ALLEGRA had also come close to the island in similar salutes, so it may be that the risky close passes were considered routine by Costa. 

Capt. Schettino also had a personal reason to do the salute. A retired Costa Master was on Giglio watching the ship come past, and was talking on the phone with Schettino at the time - a call that may have distracted him.  

See "Costa Concordia AIS" in the Categories column to the right side of the page for the AIS track of the accident along with commentary from gCaptain's John Konrad. Chilling!

[POST EDIT: I had trouble getting the Vimeo video of the AIS and commentary on gCaptain's site to play for some reason; so here is the direct link to that video. Well worth watching, as you can see exactly where COSTA CONCORDIA is as the incident progresses, and Capt. Konrad does a seamanlike job of explaining what is happening during the animation.]

It's certain that Schettino was neglecting many accepted tenets of prudent navigation: plot your course, maintain situational awareness, have multiple means to identify your position, don't take needless chances, don't allow yourself to become distracted. He'd gotten away with it in the past. But the result this time was evident for all the world to see.

Damage to COSTA CONCORDIA's port side - click the photo to go to Discovery News story
I'd previously read that the Voyage Data Recorder (VDR) had not been working (click on "Costa Concordia Black Box" in the Categories listing to the right of the page). But that seems not to have been true. 

Stories from Discovery News, gCaptain, and The Vancouver Sun, among many others, broke the news this week that "black box" recordings obtained by La Stampa newspaper in Italy show Schettino crying out "Madonna, what have I done?" right after striking the rock at 2145, and "So are we really going down?" to the Engineer on watch a few minutes later. 

Yet at 2154, just minutes after that remark, Schettino is heard ordering an officer not to tell the passengers what had really happened: "Say that there has been a blackout." And minutes later, he reported to the Coast Guard, "We've had a blackout, we're just evaluating - at most we're going to need a tug boat." He seems to have been simply unable to face the facts. 

And yet, he did know the truth. Schettino to his wife as the evacuation finally got underway: "We hit a reef, the ship is listing but I performed a great manoeuvre - everything is under control." But then he added: "My career as a captain is over."

Click for Vancouver Sun story
I've never had to face such a situation, thank God - so I don't know exactly what I'd do. But a lifetime of observing the US Coast Guard has taught me one thing: it's better to tell the whole unvarnished truth first time around, than to leak it out or spin it. That's certain trouble! I'm sure the Italian Coast Guard, or the Coast Guard anywhere, is the same. As some US politicians have had reason to learn, there's the crime, and then there's the cover-up - and the cover-up is infinitely worse. 

I hope in a similar situation, I'd spit out the whole truth and let the chips fall where they may! Of course, you should never state that you take any sort of blame - leave legal matters like that to your company's lawyers. But a truthful statement to the Coast Guard of the undisputed facts of an incident will serve both you and your company better than any shading of the truth. Francesco Schettino is about to find that out.

Adrian Vasquez - click photo for new Maritime Executive story
Back in April, a cruise line news story broke that shocked everyone, particularly coming on top of the then-recent COSTA CONCORDIA fiasco. The Princess Cruises ship STAR PRINCESS was accused of failing to aid three Panamanian fishermen adrift in the Pacific between Panama and the Galapagos Islands. The three men had been drifting for about two weeks at that point and were in severe distress - one of them died that night. 

Passengers on the cruise ship had taken photos and alerted a crew member to an apparent boat in distress, but the message never got to the bridge team or the Master, and the ship did not stop to render aid. When the passengers' photos were released, along with their allegations - and the lone survivor, Vasquez, was picked up near the Galapagos after 28 days at sea - a firestorm of accusations and lawsuits against Princess Cruises broke out.

Photo taken by passenger - click for gCaptain story
Here is a photo taken by cruise passenger Jeff Gilligan - you can click the image to go to the story that appeared on the gCaptain site at the time. The gCaptain story also has an enlarged image and a video interview with Adrian, done in Panama shortly after his rescue. (Also, click "Fishermen Ignored" in the Categories listing on the right side of the page for an earlier post with other news links from that time.)

Now lawyers for Princess are claiming that a video taken at the time Adrian Vasquez was rescued exonerates the cruise line. They have had the passenger photos and the rescue video analyzed by a former NASA photo analyst, and say that this new evidence proves that the boat in the photos could not have been Vasquez' boat, FIFTY CENT. Here's the video, and further down an enlargement of one of the photos, zoomed in on the boat the passengers saw - see what you think:

It appears to me that the boat in the photos may lack the heavy blue stripes and prominent name evident in the video of Vasquez' rescue, although it certainly has some similar decoration - but the photos were taken at such a distance I can't be absolutely sure.

The photo analyst hired by Princess Cruises no doubt had means to examine the distant image in more detail.  But from what I can see on these publicly available images, their evidence is far from a slam-dunk. It still seems to me that it could be Adrian's boat. What's your judgment - does Princess have a point here?

At the bottom of the post, see a public relations release by Princess Cruises, laying out their evidence. Again, thought-provoking - but to my eye, not conclusive.

There's also the identification that Adrian made of the STAR PRINCESS, although he might have already been familiar with the ship. But why would he identify her as the ship they had seen that fateful day? I'd like to know more about that.
In addition, Princess Cruises lawyers claim that an analysis of wind and current shows that FIFTY CENT would not have drifted on a track that could have intercepted the course of STAR PRINCESS. They're saying that the boat photographed by the passengers, therefore, had to be another vessel. I don't feel qualified to comment on that likelihood, however. Are you familiar with the currents on that coast - can you give us the benefit of local knowledge?

Princess Cruises PR release - click image for Cruise Law News story
At left, see a PR release from Princess intended to illustrate their case.

If you click the image, you'll go to an interesting post on Cruise Law News that makes some cogent points - among them, that if the boat photographed by the passengers is not FIFTY CENT, then the ship might have passed up two vessels in distress: FIFTY CENT,  and a second unknown similar vessel. Lots of questions!

Has anyone out there had direct contact with this story? Can you speak to the allegation that FIFTY CENT could not have drifted across STAR PRINCESS' track? Or, have you seen any useful news links or other resources that you could share? Please respond in the Comments section!