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A Puntland Maritime Police Force (PMPF) officer helps the ship’s Yemeni chief engineer, Mohammed Ali Khan. Courtesy of Mohamad Abdirahman, PMPF director.
A Puntland Maritime Police Force (PMPF) officer helps the ship’s Yemeni chief engineer, Mohammed Ali Khan. Courtesy of Mohamad Abdirahman, PMPF director.

For relatives of rescued MV Iceberg crew, a Christmas worth celebrating

Relatives of the 22 men rescued from Somali pirates on Sunday say they feel free to celebrate for the first time in years.

DUBAI // The families of 22 crew freed after being held hostage by Somali pirates celebrated Christmas today with a joy they have not truly felt for two years.

“For the past years that my brother has not been around, it was like we were in mourning during Christmas because our precious one was not with us,” said Michael Ahiable, 26, whose brother Jewel was among the 22 hostages rescued by the Puntland Maritime Police Force at the weekend after a 13-day siege and a gun battle.

“Now we are giving thanks to God and our praise is to God for delivering him back to us. Today our celebrations will be in church.”

Mr Ahiable, who lives in Akra, Ghana, had not spoken to his 33-year-old brother, the eldest of six, since June when he called to say the hostages felt abandoned after an impasse in the pirates’ negotiations with the ship’s owner.

The MV Iceberg 1, owned by the Dubai company Azal Shipping, was hijacked with 24 crew on board on March 29, 2010. A Yemeni sailor died in October 2010 and the Indian chief officer has been listed as missing since September last year.

The 22 men rescued are from Ghana, Yemen, India, Pakistan, Sudan and the Philippines.

The cargo ship’s Yemeni owner had failed to meet a mid-July ransom deadline setting off a flurry of phone calls from the hostages calling home to appeal for help.

Recalling those days still makes his family cry, said Mr Ahiable, who prefers to focus on happier times ahead.

“Now we can’t wait to see him and the joy my family feels is indescribable. We have cried a lot but now is a time for thanks that God has restored our joy and happiness. We have been calling on God for years and, at the appointed time, he has answered our prayers.”

Like other families, Mr Ahiable does not know exactly when his brother will return home to Ghana.

The freed crew were initially taken to a military base in Ely, a coastal town in northern Puntland, where they received treatment for malnutrition and the effects of torture.

They have since been taken to Puntland’s capital city, Garowe, where medical treatment will continue until they are repatriated.

Relatives said they eagerly read newspapers and listened to the radio for news about the gun battle launched by the Puntland forces to free the hostages on December 10.

Three pirates were killed during the operation, three others were captured and nine fled.

An Indian and a Pakistani sailor were treated for minor gunshot wounds sustained in the crossfire between the pirates and Puntland forces.

Francis Koomson Jr, who also lives in Akra, said his family was going to church to celebrate the rescue.

Before their 55-year-old father called on Sunday to say he was safe, the family had not spoken to him in six months and were frantic with worry. “But now we are going to church full of joy that our father will be back with us,” said Mr Koomson.

“We want to first give thanks to God, and then those who rescued the hostages. This is a very, very happy Christmas for us. We could never celebrate Christmas in the years before and ours was not a happy family. But now we will be forever grateful.”

Relatives said they would also remember in their prayers those hostages who continue to be held captive by Somali pirates.

According to the International Maritime Bureau, 142 people are being held captive by Somali pirates, of whom 119 are prisoners on eight ships seized. The remaining men are being held ashore.

rtalwar@thenational.ae

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