(Reuters) - The number of seafarers killed due to Somali piracy has escalated in the past four years with 62 merchant sailors losing their lives through torture, execution, suicide and malnutrition, campaigners said on Monday.
Somali gangs, who are making millions of dollars in ransoms, are becoming increasingly violent, and are able to stay out at sea for long periods and in all weather conditions using captured merchant vessels as mother ships.
"62 seafarers have died in the past four years as a direct result of piracy in the Gulf of Aden and Indian Ocean, through deliberate murder by pirates, suicide during the period of captivity, death from malnutrition and disease, death by drowning, or heart failure just after the hijacking," said SOS SaveOurSeafarers.
SOS said two seamen were killed in 2007 as a result of pirate attacks, adding that piracy had worsened since then.
Overstretched international navies have proved unable to contain the raids in the Indian Ocean due to the vast distances involved in a crisis costing world trade billions of dollars a year.
"It is government inaction that has allowed piracy to spiral out of control in this area," said SOS, which is backed by the shipping and marine insurance organisations and a major workers' union. "It's time to stop this outrage. It's time for governments to take action."
SOS said during the four-year period, more than 3,500 seafarers had been kidnapped and held hostage by pirate gangs, who have used them as human shields and forced crew members to operate vessels as mother ships.
"Hundreds of these seafarers have been subjected to horrific torture including being hung by the ankles over the side of the ship, being shut in the ship's freezer room, having cable ties tightened round the genitals, being beaten, punched and kicked," said SOS chairman Giles Heimann.
"Many of these seafarers remain traumatised and unable to return to their seafaring careers long after the hijack is over, if at all."
Dipendra Rathore, a 22 year-old Indian deck cadet who had been held hostage for eight months on board the Merida Marguerite vessel, said he was determined to return to sea.
"At my age you can still bear pain -… watching people twice my age being tortured, crying and begging for help is what really measured me," he said.
"I felt so bad for them but I could do nothing about it, except for praying." (Reporting by Jonathan Saul)