Foreign Ministry accused of trying to suppress coverage of pirate captives

The crew of a Danish ship has spent nearly two years in the hands of Somali pirates, but the media has chosen to remain silent about their captivity

On January 12, 2010, the MV Leopard was hijacked by Somali pirates in the Indian Ocean. The ship’s two Danish and four Filipino crew members were soon transferred to land and have been held somewhere in Somalia ever since.

As the second anniversary of their capture looms, the plight of the seamen has been conspicuously absent from the Danish media, with the exception of tabloid Ekstra Bladet that started a campaign this summer entitled, “Will Søren and Eddy be left to rot in Somalia?”

The campaign, which refers to the names of the two Danish seamen, Søren Lyngbjørn and Eddy Lopez, was designed to draw attention to the two men’s plight, and their fears that they will be left to die in captivity.

The campaign also brought unwelcome attention to the ship’s owners, Shipcraft. Their campaign portrayed its majority shareholder, John Arne Larsson, as living a lavish lifestyle while his employees languished in Somalia.

It is, of course, more complicated than that. The Copenhagen Post has on multiple occasions been contacted directly by the men’s captors hoping to generate media coverage. At the advice of the Foreign Ministry, the decision was made not to report on the matter, based on the argument that coverage of the men’s captivity could spoil negotiations to free them.

Other media outlets followed the ministry’s recommendation. As late as Wednesday TV2 News reportedly cancelled a story on their popular evening news talk show ‘Go’ Aften Danmark’ about the MV Leopard hostages.

Programme editor Jes Schrøder told Ekstra Bladet that the decision was based on concerns that the story would backfire.

“We decided not to run it after I listened to the arguments that the increased attention it would get from a show like ours may end up making the situation in Africa worse,” Schrøder said.

But Poul Madsen, Ekstra Bladet’s editor, disagreed.

“Silence has not helped Eddy or Søren, if it had they would have come home a long time ago,” Madsen said. “When we started this campaign they had sat in hell for 536 days. They’ve now been there 720 days.”

Madsen also criticised the attempts by the Foreign Ministry to suppress media coverage of the plight of the hostages.

“I think the way they are trying to manipulate the public is undemocratic.”

Tomorrow’s two-year anniversary is being marked today by a demonstration held outside parliament. According to Ekstra Bladet, the organisers of the demonstration had been contacted by the Foreign Ministry and urged to cancel the event.

The Foreign Ministry declined to speak with The Copenhagen Post, and it is not known what they are doing to help secure the release of the hostages.

A representative from Shipcraft was also unavailable for comment. But in a press release on the company’s website, managing director Claus Bech wrote that their thoughts and prayers were with the crew and that they hoped for a quick release

“Two years of inhuman captivity in Somalia will soon be the sad reality for our poor colleagues. We recognise the magnitude of the difficulties that they and their loved ones at home must be going through,” 

Bech wrote that the company was continuing its efforts to free the seamen, but said that even though Starcraft had engaged the help of security advisors, the ultimate responsibility for releasing them was in the hands of the pirates. 

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