x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Captured captain's daughter appeals for his release

Jawaid Khan worked as a ship's captain and at age 63 was approaching retirement - but now, kidnapped by pirates, he is in constant peril. His daughter in Dubai wakes up at night hyperventilating and is wracked by guilt.

Jawaid S Khan in an undated picture aboard an unidentified ship.
Jawaid S Khan in an undated picture aboard an unidentified ship.

DUBAI // The last time Nareman Jawaid saw her father, he was setting sail from Jebel Ali to deliver a vessel full of cargo to Kenya.

She had urged him, a 63-year-old Pakistani ship captain, to consider retiring.

Instead Jawaid Khan's ship, the MV Albedo, was hijacked by Somali pirates.

The 11 months since have brought painful uncertainty, as the captors have issued impossible demands, and death threats followed by months of silence.

Ms Jawaid, 28, said she wakes up at night hyperventilating. She socialises little and has lost weight.

"I used to eat and I used to cry, 'Is my father getting food?'," she said.

The length of captivity and the ransoms demanded for hijacked ships such as the MV Albedo have increased in the past year, as Somali pirates have grown stronger and bolder.

While hostage deaths used to be unheard of, this year Somali pirates have killed 15 captives, the International Maritime Bureau said in its latest report.

Nearly 300 hostages and 15 ships remain in captivity as often-halting negotiations proceed, and loved ones wait and worry.

Ms Jawaid had to wait two days to simply confirm that her father's ship had been hijacked.

He had emailed her last November to tell her pirates were chasing them.

She called him right away and listened as he tried to manoeuvre the ship away and calm his 22-man crew.

After 10 minutes he told her the pirates were out of sight and not to worry. The next morning she emailed him to see if he was OK. He did not respond. She waited another day.

Finally she found out from the shipowner in Malaysia that the pirates had called him to say they had his ship.

After that they did not call again for two weeks. Ms Jawaid thought her father had been killed. She stayed home from work.

Then the pirates called to demand US$10 million (Dh36.7m).

The owner said he could not pay. The MV Albedo itself - his only vessel - was not worth half that amount much, said the shipowner, Omid Khosrojerdi, speaking by phone.

His company was forced to close a few months after the hijacking, though he remains involved trying to release the crew.

For three months Mr Khan's family heard nothing.

Then the captors called Mr Khan's wife and told her he had been taken ashore. He was allowed to talk to her to confirm this. They urged her to pressure the owner to pay.

A week later the pirates called to tell her they had shot him, sending her into hysterics. She tried not to believe it kept the news from her daughter.

The reported death turned out to be a negotiating tactic. Three months later, the pirates called back to say the father was alive.

By that point, after much effort by Mr Khan's wife, a prominent social worker in her hometown of Karachi had taken up her cause.

Ahmed Chinoy, the chairman of the Citizens Police Liaison Committee, has handled kidnapping negotiations before.

He said they are pressing all sorts of channels, even pleading publicly for help, which is considered controversial because it might jeopardise sensitive negotiations.

The governor of Sindh province, where Karachi is located, has made an appeal.

Influential Somali businessmen are being sought. The team set up a bank account, solicited donations on Facebook and appealed through the press.

"Media is the only channel through which we can make people aware," said Mr Chinoy, speaking by phone. "If the world can react to atrocities anywhere in the world, why not these atrocities in Somalia?"

Ms Jawaid said she felt guilty about what she viewed as the injustice of her father's situation.

She did not want to go out with friends or eat nice meals when her father lived in captivity and might not even have food.

He had worked hard for decades to provide for his family, she said. "He deserves better."

chuang@thenational.ae