x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

The Khan family was invited to speak at the Third Counter-Piracy Conference about the strain on relatives for those with loved ones that have been held captive by pirates.

DUBAI // Sailors' families have urged that a support group be set up to help them cope with depression and helplessness while their loved ones are held hostage by pirates.

"We felt completely isolated and we struggled with not knowing who to talk to," said Nareman Jawaid, the daughter of Jawaid Khan, captain of the MV Albedo who was held hostage for 21 months by Somali pirates.

The Khan family was invited to speak at the Third Counter-Piracy Conference about the strain for relatives.

"There should be some organisation or facility so seafarers families can come together," Ms Jawaid said. "There should be a platform to help families understand how to deal with things."

Mr Khan and his 23-man crew were taken captive in November 2010. He was among eight Pakistanis released by Somali pirates in August last year after a Dh4 million ransom was raised by Pakistani businessmen.

Mr Khan cannot forget the 15 sailors from Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, India and Iran he was forced to leave behind when pirates bundled the Pakistani crew into the jungle.

"It was stressful," he said. "I told the crew to be calm, obedient, tolerate everything and subjugate themselves.

"There is no other choice. I feel extremely sorry I could not help the others but I was given no choice."

An Indian sailor was shot dead by the pirates in June 2011 to put pressure on the ship's Iranian owner to pay the ransom.

Mr Khan told how the crew were packed into the ship's swimming pool and denied food, water and access to the toilet for up to three days. Pirates would open fire just above his head, he recalled. 

"The whole crew would be out in the scorching sun for three days," he said. "There would be no toilet facilities and it was humiliating to urinate in our clothes. They would threaten to kill us. I cannot forget all this."

Mr Khan's wife Shahnaz said her husband was weak from malnutrition and dehydration when he returned home and had bouts of vomiting.

"It was a nightmare with no news for months and then pirates calling with threats to kill him," she said. "Once they told me that he was dead and for months I kept this from my daughters. It was torturous."

Experts said talking to family members or health professionals helped survivors to work through the trauma.

"What makes it harder is if a person has seen graphic violence, life and death, bloodshed, torture and also the duration of their suffering," said David Rider, president of Seamen's Church Institute, a group based in New York that cares for seafarers' needs. 

"This crew had a long siege and that makes it harder for them to bounce back."

Mr Khan's family still struggles with the memories.

"It was the constant mental trauma that was difficult," said his daughter Mishal. "Not knowing what will happen is terrifying.

"Affected families need to be guided. Families should not feel abandoned."