x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 22 September 2017

Hostage crew's two-year ordeal may end 'next month'

Relatives of sailors captured aboard the MV Iceberg 1 say they are happy to hear that the pirates are expected to release them next month.

MV Iceberg 1 was bound for Jebel Ali when hijacked. The crew consist of persons from Yemen, India, Ghana, Sudan, Pakistan and the Philipines. Courtesy EUNAVFOR
MV Iceberg 1 was bound for Jebel Ali when hijacked. The crew consist of persons from Yemen, India, Ghana, Sudan, Pakistan and the Philipines. Courtesy EUNAVFOR

DUBAI // Relatives of the sailors aboard the Dubai-owned MV Iceberg 1 - one of the ships held longest by Somali pirates - yesterday expressed renewed hope after learning that the release of the crew could be next month.

The Indian Embassy said the sailors of the ship, which was captured on March 29, 2010, could be released by mid-July after family members visited Dubai in May to step up pressure on the ship's owners.

"We have been told it will happen in July," said the father of a captured sailor, asking not to be identified. "I have not spoken to my son in more than a year. I constantly worry about his health and condition. We just want them to be free and that's all we are working towards."

MV Iceberg 1 has been in captivity longer than any other vessel currently held by Somali pirates. One of the 24 crew members died on board last year. The crew includes sailors from Yemen, India, Ghana, Pakistan, Sudan and Philippines.

Indian relatives who visited Dubai declined to be identified since they have been cautioned against discussing the hostages' release by the Yemeni ship owner and Indian officials. They said they had been warned that the pirates' demands increased when news of negotiations were made public.

Yesterday, the Indian ambassador said he was aware of a breakthrough in talks and an imminent release next month.

"They have negotiated," said MK Lokesh, the Indian ambassador to the UAE. "Our hope is there will be a resolution by mid-July. We have requested the ship owners find an early solution."

Mr Lokesh said the Indian missions had facilitated a meeting between the ship owners and the families in May, but said they did not know details of the ransom involved.

"We don't know how much they have raised. It's been going on for the last two years. The families met with the owners ... the owners have given us an assurance that they are on the right track," he said.

Mr Lokesh said the Indian government was not involved in any negotiations but had emphasised the need for a quick resolution with the ship owners.

After several conflicting reports of their release last year, anxious family members are desperate for a final resolution. The son of a hostage from Ghana said he had spoken with his father last week, and learnt that the men had been shifted to the shore.

"My daddy called me last week and said they had been moved from the vessel to land, but where he couldn't tell," said Francis, who asked to be identified only by his first name.

Relatives in Ghana said they had approached their government but were told that state officials could not come to their aid. "He asked me what we were doing to save him, I told them the government will not help us, but we're still trying our best," Francis said. "We were hoping to help the Indians in their efforts. Until he called last week, we were very disturbed because he had last called in October."

There are more than 200 sailors being held by Somali pirates, and 62 have lost their lives since 2007, according to the International Maritime Bureau. The bureau said 43 attacks were carried out by Somali pirates in the first quarter of this year.

pkannan@thenational.ae

rtalwar@thenational.ae