NAIROBI — Somali pirates are systematically torturing hostages and using them as human shields, the top commander of the European Union Naval Force said yesterday.
Pirates have recently tied hostages upside down and dragged them in the sea, locked them in freezers, beaten them, and used plastic ties around their genitals, Major General Buster Howes said.
“There have been regular manifestations of systematic torture,’’ he said. If warships approached a pirated ship too closely, the pirates would drag hostages on deck and beat them in front of naval officers until the warship went away, Howes said.
“A few years go, they were very constrained and much more respectful’’ to hostages, he said, but now “they’ve shown a willingness to use violence much more quickly, and much more violence.’’
There could be several reasons for the change in tactics. As ransoms have risen, the Somali fishermen who began first taking ships have been edged out by more ruthless and well-organized gangs. More warships and better-prepared crews mean pirates have to use more violence to stop ships — for example, hitting a vessel with several rocket-propelled grenades — and sometimes more violence to get to crews that have locked themselves in a safe room.