x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Joy as $2.8m pirate ransom raised

The US$2.85 million (Dh10.4m) that Somali pirates had demanded as ransom for 22 crew onboard the hijacked MV Albedo has been raised on the hostages' behalf.

Hira (far right), pictured with her siblings, made a teary appeal recently, urging Pakistanis to help raise funds to free her father, MV Albedo’s chief officer Mujtaba, along with other hostages.
Hira (far right), pictured with her siblings, made a teary appeal recently, urging Pakistanis to help raise funds to free her father, MV Albedo’s chief officer Mujtaba, along with other hostages.

DUBAI // The US$2.85 million demanded by pirates as ransom for 22 crewmen on the hijacked cargo ship MV Albedo was raised in time for yesterday's deadline, a negotiator says.

Philanthropists, businessmen and relatives of the crewmen, along with the Malaysian owner of the ship, have put together the Dh10.4m and now must gather it together and hand it to the Somali raiders.

"We have got the funds from various donors in Pakistan," said Ahmed Chinoy, the chairman of the Citizens-Police Liaison Committee in Karachi, which is mediating with the pirates on behalf of the  relatives.

"We have achieved that figure along with Malaysian help. Now we have to figure out how to get the money to one place and deliver it to the pirates.

"All this should be finalised within a week."

The pirates had extended the original April 26 deadline for payment to today.

Omid Khosrojerdi, the shipowner, had agreed to raise at least half of the total amount.

The cargo ship was hijacked in November 2010 in the Gulf of Aden after it left Jebel Ali for Kenya, with a crew of Pakistanis, Bangladeshis, Sri Lankans, Indians and an Iranian. One Indian sailor died due to lack of medicine.

The pirates initially demanded $10m as ransom but the amount was reduced after Mr Chinoy travelled to Dubai in March to lead talks as the head of the independent citizens' action group. He met groups including businessmen who put him in touch with Somali tribal leaders. They helped with negotiations.

The campaign then hit several blocks. Two deadlines set by the pirates for last month were missed due to a shortfall of 150m Pakistani rupees (Dh6m).

Relatives rejoiced yesterday after hearing the target had been reached.

"I'm so excited and I'm confused too, because until yesterday we were still making appeals on national TV," said Nareman Jawaid, a Dubai resident and daughter of the ship's captain, Jawaid Khan. She waved goodbye to her father at Jebel Ali 18 months ago.

"If this is true the first thing I'd want to do is break out into a dance. If this is true, this is a miracle. But I will not truly believe it until my father is in front of me."

In the past two days Ishrat Ul Ebad Khan, the governor of Pakistan's Sindh province, joined the fund-raising efforts, calling  for contributions from businessmen and philanthropists, Mr Chinoy said.

Groups of family members stood near busy Karachi roads and outside mosques, and appealed on television and radio programmes.

In Dubai, Ms Jawaid set up a Facebook page and the website save-mvalbedo.com with updates about the crew, families and fund-raising.

It is unclear how long it would take for the crew to be freed, but the Pakistan government yesterday said it hoped it would be quick.

An appeal on Pakistan's Geo TV by Hira Mujtaba, daughter of Mujtaba, the chief officer on the MV Albedo, tugged at the heartstrings of the nation.

"They can do anything to my father," said Hira, 8, choking back tears. "I will die without my Papa. I appeal to Zardari uncle [the president] because the deadline is near."

The Pakistani minister of interior Rehman Malik said president Asif Ali Zardari had heard her appeal.

Hira's mother Neelam said she took her three daughters and son Mohammed, 15 months, on fund-raising drives so the public would not forget the hostages.

"My Hira has always said that she doesn't want to live if her father dies," said Mrs Mujtaba, adding her husband had yet to see his son.

"We read, we pray and recite the Quran every minute. Our lives, mine and my children's, have stopped until he returns."

rtalwar@thenational.ae