x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Pirates extend the ransom deadline for Dubai ship

Negotiator says Somali raiders are likely to agree to new deadline of next month for payment of US$2.85 million to release 22 crewmen.

DUBAI // Somali pirates have extended yesterday's deadline for payment of US$2.85 million (Dh10.4m) to release 22 crewmen from the hijacked Dubai cargo ship MV Albedo, a negotiator says.

The ransom deadline could be extended until next month, said Ahmed Chinoy, the chairman of Pakistan's Citizens Police Liaison Committee, who is mediating on behalf of the families of hostages who have been held for 17 months.

"The pirates … agreed to extend the deadline to April 23," he said from Karachi. "We said we need at least 10-15 days more. We will agree on a final date soon."

The ship left Jebel Ali for Kenya in November 2010. The vessel, with a crew of Pakistanis, Sri Lankans, Indians and an Iranian, was hijacked that month in the Gulf of Aden. One Indian sailor later died because of a lack of medicine.

Mr Chinoy travelled to Dubai last month as the head of the independent citizens' action group to speak to groups including Somali businessmen based there. They put him in touch with tribal leaders who helped with negotiations.

"I have tried to explain to them [pirates] that we are trying hard for the funds," he said. "They have already waited one and a half years so they can wait another 15 days."

Almost a month since the April 20 deadline was set, there is a shortfall of 150m Pakistani rupees ($1.6m) in the amount demanded by the pirates to "cover expenses", such as medicine and food.

The money has been raised by charity groups, relatives, the citizens' committee in Pakistan, the Malaysian ship owner and contributions from the public on the website savemvalbedo.com

"We are following up on promises and assurances of funds we received from Dubai," Mr Chinoy said.

"We are appealing to the whole business community and the people of Dubai, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka to come forward to help us save these 22 lives and help these families in distress."

Omid Khosrojerdi, the Malaysian shipowner who has shut down his company, said: "I hope with the help of God we can reach our target. It should be done. We are positive."

The pirates had demanded $10m but after talks in Dubai last month they reduced it to covering costs.

Relatives had received threatening phone calls from the pirates, warning they would harm the men if the deadline was not met. But Mr Chinoy appealed for patience.

"The payment is subject to the safety of the remaining 22 crew," he said. "Naturally, the pirates will try to put pressure on the families. Family members must be very patient and have strong conviction."

Relatives described their anguish about the calls.

"The feeling of fear and anxiety that overcomes you when you hear about these calls, it's destructive, it makes you unable to function," said Nareman Jawaid, a Dubai resident and daughter of the ship's captain, Jawaid Khan. She last saw her father at Jebel Ali 17 months ago.

"I truly wish someone comes forward to save these innocent people," she said. "What was their fault? They only went to sea to earn for their families."

rtalwar@thenational.ae

* With additional reporting by Carol Huang