An Indian shipping union on today called for United Nations naval patrols in the treacherous waters off Somalia, as the crew of one hijacked vessel returned home to an emotional welcome. "Naval patrols at the moment are conducted by different countries," Abdulgani Serang, general secretary of the National Union of Seafarers of India (NUSI), said. "We want patrols under the mandate of the United Nations which should not be country sensitive. That would be more effective in the long run. With all due respect to the navies already there, you can't pick and choose who to help."
Mr Serang was speaking after a news conference following the return of four Indian crew members of the MV Stolt Valor, a Japanese-owned, Hong Kong-registered ship that was held by armed pirates for two months. The chemical tanker, which had 18 Indians, two Filipinos, a Bangladeshi and a Russian on board, was released last weekend. Meanwhile, Somali pirates holding a Saudi supertanker after the largest seizure in maritime history are reportedly asking for a $15m ransom. The pirates had originally been quoted as wanting $25m to release the Sirius Star, which has $100 million of oil and 25 crew on board. Heavily-armed pirates operate in the area off lawless Somalia's northeast coast, which is a key maritime route leading to the Suez Canal through which an estimated 30 per cent of the world's oil transits.
Two days after the Stolt Valor's release, pirates seized the Saudi-owned crude carrier Sirius Star in the most audacious hijacking yet. Mr Serang said piracy should not be glamorized, instead describing them as "maritime terrorists". The four Indians who returned home Monday flew from the Gulf state of Oman to the western city of Mumbai and were met by tearful family members and a throng of waiting media.
Afterwards, three of the men, general steward Allister Fernandes, trainee officer Naveed Burombka and chief cook Isidore Fernandes, said they were relieved that their ordeal was over. But all said they were prepared to go back to sea, whatever the risks. "These things, like terrorism, happen in other places also," Mr Burombka, 20, said. "It doesn't only happen in Somali waters. We are going to take it as a positive that this nightmare is over."
* AFP / Reuters