ABU DHABI // A Dubai-registered dhow with 11 sailors on board was limping home along the coast of Oman last night after a dramatic escape from Somali pirates who held them hostage at gunpoint for two days.
The MSV Al Kaderi was hijacked by pirates on March 28 as it sailed close to the port of Hobyo in Somalia. The raiders stole the vessel's communications and navigation equipment and forced the boat to sail through the Gulf of Oman waters, apparently hoping to use the dhow as cover for their skiffs to attack cargo vessels and tankers. On Tuesday, the gang ordered the dhow to sail close to the coastline to allow their skiffs to go ashore for food and water.
All the pirates left the dhow to go ashore and the crew seized their chance to flee, speeding away when the hikackers were out of sight. With little fuel, no navigation instruments and using only one engine, the boat limped its way along the coast towards Muscat, fearful of a second attack. The attackers stole the crew members' mobile telephones but one man managed to hide a handset and make contact with the boat's owners on Saturday night, when they came into range of the Omani telephone network.
A search is now on to locate the dhow. "They said they'd been adrift for four days and are running out of fuel and supplies," said Bilkis Khanani, the wife of the dhow's owner, who spoke to the crew on Saturday. "Up until now they are all fine and haven't been harmed in any way, but we are very worried about them being adrift at sea. "We are just praying for the safety of the crew. One of our boats was attacked last year and the crew were very badly treated, locked up for a long time without much food or water."
She said the sailors believed they were near the town of Ras al Madrak, off the coast of Oman, "because they have sailed these waters many times". The telephone line failed repeatedly, and shortly after 9pm the owners lost contact with the boat. The owners yesterday contacted the US Maritime Liaison Office (MLO), which relays information regarding hijackings between civilian shipping and the US navy.
A spokesman for the MLO said the vessel was not classed as in distress. It had fuel and a working engine and, as it was no longer in pirate hands, responsibility for any assistance lay with the Omani coast guard. The spokesman acknowledged there had been a delay of around seven hours in relaying the request for help to the Omanis. Omani sources said an operation was likely to be launched to contact the missing vessel.
The MSV Al Kaderi was one of eight dhows belonging to UAE-based ship owners that were hijacked during a six-day period last week, which triggered an embargo from Dubai on southern Somali ports. The news came amid reports that Somali pirates had released two Indian boats hijacked in recent weeks and freed 26 sailors. The ships were thought to be on their way to Dubai when they were hijacked after leaving a port in the rebel territory of Kismayo in Somalia.
"One vessel with 15 sailors on board was released by the pirates [on Saturday], while another one was freed early [on Sunday] along with 11 sailors," said Kasam Ali, president of the Kutch Vahanvati Association in Gujarat. He said the pirates had stripped one vessel of equipment and the other had run out of fuel. About 80 Indian sailors are thought to be held on the remaining six ships near the Seychelles.