x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Trigger-happy pirates 'found it easy to kill'

The freed captain of the UAE's MV Albedo tells of his private battle to keep the Somali pirates from shooting his 22-man crew and the horrific ordeal they faced.

Captain Jawaid Saleem Khan, 62, finally reunited with his daughter Nareman Jawaid after being held hostage.
Captain Jawaid Saleem Khan, 62, finally reunited with his daughter Nareman Jawaid after being held hostage.

DUBAI // The freed captain of the MV Albedo said yesterday that the hardest part of his 21 months as a hostage was calming down the trigger-happy gang of Somali pirates and keeping them from shooting his 22-man crew.

But that, said Jawaid Khan, made him the prime target of their anger and frustration - so much so that at one point he was trussed up with rope and lowered into the sea as pirates sprayed bullets around him.

"I had to show leadership," he said from his home in Karachi, to which he returned on Thursday night. "If I got scared and started crumbling what would happen to the crew?

"I had to always try to calm the pirates down. To negotiate with pirates is the most difficult because all they want is money. They don't understand any other language.

"They have no feeling. They are used to killing and seeing people die. We lived a miserable life."

Mr Khan and seven Pakistani crew were released on Thursday for a Dh4 million ransom raised in a nationwide effort by Pakistani families, businessmen and charity groups.

The pirates have refused to release the remaining 15 sailors - seven Bangladeshis, six Sri Lankans, an Indian and an Iranian - until they get the rest of the Dh10.5m they are demanding.

Meanwhile the extent of the brutality endured by the hostages aboard the Malaysian-flagged vessel since November 2010, when it was captured in the Gulf of Aden after leaving Jebel Ali bound for Kenya.

At one point the pirates shot dead an Indian sailor to raise the pressure on the ship's Iranian owner.

Mr Jawaid is haunted by the young man's death. "He was a new seaman. None of us will ever forget how easy it was for them to kill."

"They then told me, 'The countdown has begun. We will start killing one by one,'" recalled Mr Jawaid.

"I had to convince the pirates that no one would talk to them if they kept killing my men. Their ransom demands were much higher.

"I had to talk to them about being practical. I told them the ship was a second-hand vessel and they cannot ask for so much. They were always suspicious."

The pirates installed rocket launchers on the ship, and carried bazookas and assault rifles. They would open fire just above his head, smashing the glass behind.

The entire crew were often packed into an empty swimming pool and denied food, water and access to the toilet for up to three days.

Sailors were beaten with pipes and gun butts, and locked in containers. The pirates tore at the skin of their palms with pliers.

And all the while, the captain tried to talk them down. "I had to find a solution and keep talking," he said. "There were many difficulties, still I could not think of our problems."

He says it was hard to leave his men, but the pirates gave him little choice, bundling him and two officers into the jungle two months ago.

He insisted on returning to the MV Albedo on the pretext of collecting travel documents when it became clear that the pirates would free only the Pakistani crew.

"I went back to try to boost crew morale," he said. "I told them to choose a leader because the pirates would start negotiating with other nations and families. I said we would help their families."

He is weak from malnutrition. When he got home he was dehydrated, his feet swollen, and he suffered from bouts of vomiting. His family say he now looks far older than his 60 years, and have made him promise never to sail again.

"I want to cry everytime I think about him tied up and shot at," said Nareman, his daughter, who lives in Dubai and travelled home with her father after he stopped in there on his way back to Karachi.

"It's inhuman. And he hasn't even told us everything that happened. I can't be more grateful to God but I will always hurt for what he has been through."

His wife said it was vital for him to talk about the ordeal.

"He should let every single thing out," said Mrs Shahnaz Jawaid, who received many threatening calls from hijackers about the ransom. "But it's not easy to hear how your loved ones suffered."

Now Mr Jawaid plans to contact the families of the remaining captives. He said governments and other organisations must get involved. "It's a bad situation but we have hope."

 

rtalwar@thenational.ae