SOMALIA: Pirates release crew after nearly four years in captivity

Published: June 7, 2014

Sailors on a ship hijacked by Somali pirates nearly four years ago were finally released on Saturday, the longest-running Somali piracy case to have been brought to an end.

The 11 crew members of the MV Albedo were facing their first hours of freedom after three years and seven months as hostages, during which their pirate captors often used torture.

The men escaped with the help of some of their pirate captors in the early hours of Friday morning and fled to a nearby village where they were taken in by government-affiliated milita, a senior Somali anti-piracy official told The Telegraph.

“Few of them had shoes, some had only their underclothes, but they managed to escape through a window and reach a place of safety,” said Omar Sheikh Ali Osoble, counter-piracy focal point for the Galmudug regional administration.

“We collected them and put them in a nice hotel last night. They had air-conditioning and hot water, and all of them were so happy this morning. They were not in a bad condition, but they told us stories of their experiences which were terrible.

“Some of them were beaten very badly. Sometimes they were forced to call their people at home to say they needed money to be released, and they were close to dying, and they were beaten while they were on the telephone. All of them are so happy to be free.”

Early on in the hijacking, one crewmen was shot dead by the pirates in an apparent fit of anger after negotiations with the ship’s owners broke down. Then last summer, the vessel sank in a storm, resulting in five of the crew drowning along with five of the pirates as they abandoned ship.

The 11 seamen released were then transferred to a ramshackle house near the Somali port of Hobyo, a notorious pirate haven, where they have been held ever since. They were expected to be flown to the Kenyan capital, Nairobi.

“They have lost a lot of weight, but otherwise seem in reasonable health and in good spirits, which is remarkable considering what they been through,” said one source.

The Albedo, a Malaysian-flagged container ship, was originally captured in November 2010 with a crew of 23 from Bangladesh, India, Sri Lanka, Iran and Pakistan.

Rather than pay the $8 million ransom demanded by the pirates, the ship’s Iranian owners, who are thought to have been uninsured, simply went to ground, officials involved in the case told The Telegraph last year.

The Pakistani crew members were freed after a Pakistani businessman raised a $1.2 million ransom payment. But no similar funds were forthcoming for their fellow crew members, despite terrifying accounts emerging of the men’s mistreatment by their captors as they tried to raise the pressure.

Some of the seamen were beaten with gun butts, locked in containers, and had the skin of their palms torn with pliers. At one point, the entire crew were packed into an empty swimming pool without food or water for three days. The ship’s captain, Jawad Khan, bore the brunt of the hijackers’ anger as he tried to keep them calm. On one occasion, he was tied up and lowered into the sea as pirates sprayed bullets around him.

The international anti-piracy force that patrols the Indian Ocean was unable to attempt a rescue because it feared the hostages would almost certainly be killed if they attempted to do so.

The exact circumstances of the release of the final Albedo crewmen is unclear. However, it is thought that the pirates may have been persuaded to accept a much lower ransom than originally expected.

The ship was among the cases receiving assistance from Colonel John Steed, a former British military attache to Kenya and United Nation’s counter-piracy expert, who now runs the Secretariat for Regional Maritime Security, an organisation which specialises in dealing with Somalia’s “forgotten” piracy cases.

While Somali piracy has decreased in the last three years due to ships using armed security, Col Steed told The Telegraph last year that there were around 100 hostages still languishing in pirate custody. Many had simply been abandoned by their ship’s owners.

The remaining Albedo crew released today are understood to be an Iranian, and Indian, six Bangladeshis and three Sri Lankans.

Another group of sailors, on board the Thai-owned fishing boat the Prantalay 12, are still missing having been captured in April 2010, just over four years ago.

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