x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Pirates free 7 Pakistani hostages from MV Albedo

Seven hostages have been freed after a ransom amount of US$1.1 million (Dh4m) was paid to Somali pirates, but 15 Albedo crew members are still held.

DUBAI // Seven Pakistani hostages have been freed from the MV Albedo after a ransom of US$1.1 million (Dh4m) was paid to Somali pirates, the daughter of the ship’s captain confirmed yesterday.

The remaining 15 hostages continue to be held captive aboard the Malaysian-flagged cargo vessel that was hijacked by Somali pirates in November 2010 in the Gulf of Aden while sailing to Kenya from Jebel Ali Port.

“I am just so grateful to God that my father is alive,” said Nareman Jawaid, a Dubai resident and daughter of Jawaid Khan, the ship’s captain.

The men flew last night from Nairobi to Karachi with a short stop in Dubai, where Ms Jawaid joined them for the last leg of their flight.

The men and their families  were taken from Karachi  airport to the Governor House where they met Ishrat Ul Ebad Khan, the governor of Pakistan’s Sindh province.

Ms Jawaid had last seen her father at Jebel Ali Port two years ago.

“The pirates agreed to release only the seven Pakistanis,” she said. “We did want and hoped more people would be released with the money we raised, but that did not happen.”

Seven Bangladeshi, six Sri Lankans, an Indian and an Iranian are still being held. One Indian sailor died due to lack of medicine.

The wives and children of the Pakistani hostages had successfully launched a fund-raising drive in their home country in front of mosques and on busy roads to free their relatives.

Initial reports suggested that the Pakistani side and the Malaysian-based Iranian owner of the vessel would contribute half of the US$2.85m ransom amount demanded by the pirates.

With the help of philanthropists, businessmen and charity groups, the relatives announced on May 15 that they had raised part of the ransom amount of $1.1m. However, the owner was unable to raise the remaining amount.

The 21-month ordeal has taken a toll on the hostages with stories of deprivation and near-starvation.

The men were malnourished and dehydrated, according to negotiators from the Citizens-Police Liaison Committee in Karachi and relatives.

“I was happy but at the same time I felt very sad to see him,” said Ms Jawaid about her father.

“It’s been very hard on him and I hope he recovers. You can tell by just looking at him that he is not himself. He is very, very weak and has lost a lot of weight. He needs to be taken care of now.”

The hostages said they had been taken ashore for the past couple of months and left without food for days.

Her mother Shahnaz said she was unable to speak when captain Jawaid called from Dubai. The pirates had repeatedly called her with threats to kill her husband and the other hostages if the ransom was not paid.

“We just cried a lot, I couldn’t speak,” said Mrs Jawaid.

“Part of us is very sad for the rest of the crew, we are praying for them. My husband is quite depressed – obviously leaving people behind was not easy for him but there was no choice.”

The Somali pirates also sent a video focusing on the Pakistani hostages and relatives, the negotiators said.

This video prompted family members to urge Ahmed Chinoy, the lead negotiator from the citizens committee, to agree to secure the release of the seven men since there was no clarity about the remaining ransom amount.

“It was very difficult to watch,” Mrs Jawaid said.

“They were sick and lying on the ground. Mr Chinoy wanted everybody to come out, he was stuck on it. We had waited two months. But after seeing the video – that was the point we decided we could not wait anymore.”

Mr Chinoy led a small team to Somalia. No information was released to relatives due to concern that the pirates would backtrack.

“I went to an undisclosed location [in Somalia] to secure them,” Mr Chinoy said.

“It all happened very quickly over the last 24 hours. When I saw them, tears went down my face, I was so excited and I thanked Allah. I feel really sorry about the rest. My pledge is to keep alive the struggle to save their lives.”

rtalwar@thenational.ae