x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Pirates demand Dh11m to free hostages

Relatives scramble to raise money ahead of April 20 ransom deadline for the Dubai-based cargo tanker, the MV Albedo.

Nareman Jawaid last saw her father, Captain Jawaid Khan, in November 2010.
Nareman Jawaid last saw her father, Captain Jawaid Khan, in November 2010.

DUBAI // Efforts are on to raise Dh11 million to free 44 hostages held by Somali pirates aboard two ships that set sail from UAE ports.

The bandits have demanded US$2m (Dh7.3m) to release the MT Royal Grace, a Dubai-owned chemical tanker hijacked off the coast of Oman on March 2.

And families in Dubai and Pakistan are struggling to raise more than $1m to free 22 relatives held on the MV Albedo before next week's April 20 deadline, set by the pirates.

The MV Albedo, a Malaysian-owned cargo ship, was seized 17 months ago in the Gulf of Aden.

"It's a campaign to save lives," said Nareman Jawaid, a Dubai resident who last saw her father, MV Albedo's captain, Jawaid Khan, in Jebel Ali in November 2010 before he set sail for Kenya.

"It's not just about saving one life or 22 lives, it's also the lives of the families whose survival depends on these 22 men coming back alive," she said. "We were completely lost for a long time.

"We are in the final stage now so there is hope that something good will happen. But we still need people to help us out."

Appeals for funds are being made from residents and the business community in Pakistan and the UAE.

One Indian crew member on the MV Albedo died of cholera and the crew now comprises seven Pakistanis, seven Sri Lankans, six Bangladeshis, one Indian and an Iranian.

The pirates initially demanded $10m as ransom. But since the Malaysian owner was unable to pay, a settlement of $2.85m was reached in March to "cover expenses" - the cost of medicine and food incurred. The ship's owner will pay at least half this amount.

Ahmed Chinoy, the chief negotiator and chairman of the Citizens Police Liaison Committee in Karachi, has travelled to Dubai to raise funds and for talks with the pirates, Somali tribal leaders and Somali businessmen based in Dubai.

"We are trying everything to raise the funds and end the nightmare of the families," Mr Chinoy said.

"We need to gather as much momentum and mobilise people in the UAE and Pakistan who have promised funds. We must do this to stop a lot of bloodshed."

For relatives of crew aboard MT Royal Grace, the trauma has just begun, with negotiations continuing to free the 22 hostages. They include 17 Indians, three Nigerians, a Pakistani and a Bangladeshi.

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

"The owner, a Nigerian, is holding talks to release the ship," said Manu Chauhan, head of the Mumbai-based East India Shipping Agency, which recruited five crew members.

"They demanded $10m initially but have now come down to $2m. We are confident the ship will be freed very soon."

The tanker's owner, Oyster Cargo and Shipping company, could not be reached for comment. It was unclear whom they were negotiating with.

"Our main concern is the safety of the men and their release," Mr Chauhan said. "We don't know who the company is negotiating with, whether it is with the pirates directly or through an agency."

Andrew Mwangura, a coordinator of the Seafarers' Assistance Programme in Kenya, said he believed the crew was safe.

"There is no problem at the moment, they have enough supplies," he said.

Relatives in India said they had little information and some only recently heard about the hijacking.

"We were shocked to learn about this," said Manesh Govindan, whose 25-year-old brother is being held captive.  "We thought he was sailing to his next destination. It's unbelievable. We are moving in the dark. We have no clue what to do or who to approach. It has been difficult."

Others have asked the government to intervene.

PC Chacko, a member of parliament from Kerala, recently met India's external affairs minister, SM Krishna.

"We are doing our best to see that crew members return home safely," he said.

rtalwar@thenational.ae

frahman@thenational.ae