Monday, November 17, 2008

‘Ransom’ frees sailors in Somalia - Talk of million-dollar payout as two-month captivity ends for 18 Indians

Nov. 16: Eighteen Indian sailors were released today after being held hostage for two months by Somali pirates, sparking celebrations among their families who had run from pillar to post for government intervention.


Sunil Nair, spokesperson for the National Union of Seafarers of India, said in Mumbai tonight that “$1 million to $2.5 million could have been paid” to the pirates, who had demanded $6 million after the vessel, overseen by Ebony Ship Management, was hijacked on September 15.

The Union’s secretary, Abdul Gani, said in Hong Kong this morning that “ransom has definitely been paid” but declined to “go into the amount”. Four sailors from other countries were also freed. “There is no major medical problem (among the crew members),” he added.

The ship, carrying 23,818 tonnes of oil products, will be escorted from the pirate-infested Gulf of Aden off the Somalia coast into safe waters by the Indian Navy, Gani said, adding the crew should reach Mumbai in four to five days.

The release of Stolt Valor’s crew comes five days after commandos from a navy warship foiled a pirate attack on an Indian merchant vessel, with 20 sailors on board, in the region.

“I don’t know what to say. This is the happiest news of my life. They (the crew) will be reaching India in four to five days,” said Seema Goyal, wife of Stolt Valor Captain Prabhat Goyal.

The Goyals’ home in Dehra Dun’s upscale Teg Bahadur Road wore a festive look, with sweets being passed around and phones that wouldn’t stop ringing, after the agonising two-month wait during which Prabhat could speak to the family only once, on October 15. “We hope to travel to Mumbai to receive him,” Seema said.

There were similar scenes in the Mumbai home of Panirayan Lobo, Goyal’s colleague. Sister-in-law Rosary Fernando, who had met several Union ministers including shipping minister T.R. Baalu in Delhi and shipping officials in Mumbai, was overjoyed. She said “a celebration” would be held after Lobo returned. This evening, Baalu expressed happiness at the crew’s release.

P. Unnikrishna and wife Thangam, the Mumbai-based parents of sailor Ullas Krishna, said they had “heard that the money has been paid and the crew released”.

At Dapoli in Maharashtra’s Ratnagiri district, the Burondkars were “relieved” to know their 21-year-old son, Naveed, would finally be back home. Father M. Mohammed Burondkar said: “We were happy and relieved to know our young son would be back safe.” Naveed is a nautical science student training on Stolt Valor.

For the family of Dipak Kumar Tandel in Gujarat’s Valsad, there appeared little time to waste, not to receive him but to get him married. “We are going to find a bride for him when he returns home,” said a family member.

Another hijack

A Japanese vessel registered in Panama was seized last night 155km east of Somalia. Chemstar Venus’s crew consisted of five South Koreans and 18 Filipinos, South Korea’s foreign ministry said in a statement today.