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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 16 December 2018

Families of hijacked MT Royal Grace captives lobby India

Relatives have urged the Indian government to speak with Nigerian authorities as the vessel is owned by a Nigerian businessman.

DUBAI // Relatives of 17 Indians held captive on the Dubai-owned MT Royal Grace have gathered in Delhi to call for government intervention.

It has been six months since Somali pirates hijacked the chemical tanker with a crew of 22, comprising 17 Indians, three Nigerians, a Pakistani and a Bangladeshi.

One of the Nigerians has already died due to a lack of medication, relatives said.

"It may take a few days or it may take 20 days to meet government officials, but people will stay in Delhi until we get some assurances from ministers," said Rajesh Kumar, whose 24-year-old brother is one of the captives.

The empty tanker was sailing from Sharjah to Nigeria when it was hijacked in March.

Relatives have urged the Indian government to speak with Nigerian authorities as the vessel is owned by a Nigerian businessman.

Representatives at the ship's company, Oyster Cargo and Shipping in Dubai, declined to comment.

The Indian government has said it cannot be part of negotiations with pirates, but authorities have in the past exerted pressure on ship owners to resolve the crisis and update families on the safety of the sailors.

"We are in Delhi because we have been promised meetings with ministers," said Sushil Kumar, whose younger brother is a hostages.

"Everyone has told us to wait but for how long can we wait? We have sent memorandums to the prime minister and the president but we have heard nothing."

The relatives in Delhi said they were worried because they had not been able to reach the owner for a few weeks.

"The owner is simply not traceable so we don't know the status of their negotiations with the pirates," said a relative who did not want to be identified. "If the Indian government intervenes then at least we may get some answers."

Avinash Rai Khanna, a member of parliament who heads the human rights division of the Bharatiya Janata Party, put the relatives in contact with authorities including India's external affairs minister, SM Krishna.

"Our main concern is that the men are safe and should be released soon," Mr Khanna said.

"Some solution is needed and the government must reach out to the ship's owner because the health of the men will keep deteriorating without proper food and water."

rtalwar@thenational.ae