Smiles and tears as sailors taste freedom after nearly five years
Nairobi // Twenty-six Asian sailors held hostage by Somali pirates for nearly five years smiled and wept after they landed in Kenya on Sunday.
“Am so, so happy. Really, am so, so happy. For UN, for Mr John, for all the world. Thanks to you all,” said Sudi Ahman, one of the captured crew of the FV Naham 3.
The relief of the men was palpable, with some unable to hold back tears while others hugged each other and grinned.
“We have been working on this for four and a half years. It’s great to bring them home and hand them over to their embassies and their families,” said John Steed, coordinator of the Hostage Support Partners who helped negotiate their release
Mr Steed had gone to the Somali city of Galkayo to fetch the men, who had been held hostage for longer than any other crew except one.
A retired British colonel, he has made it his mission to rescue “forgotten hostages” – poor fishermen with no insurance who are often left languishing the longest in the hands of pirates.
The crew were taken captive when their Omani-flagged vessel was seized in March 2012 south of the Seychelles.
Pirates initially took 29 crew hostage, but one person died during the hijacking, and two more “succumbed to illness” during their captivity, said a statement from Oceans Beyond Piracy (OBP).
“We have achieved what we achieved today by getting elders, religious community and local leaders and regional government all involved to put pressure on these guys to release the hostages,” Mr Steed said.
The crew members are from China, Indonesia, Philippines, Cambodia and Taiwan and they were the last seafarers to be taken hostage at the height of Somali piracy.
Only a crew of Thai fishermen, released in February last year after nearly five years in captivity, spent longer in the hands of Somali pirates.
Mr Steed said the crew was malnourished and one of the hostages had a bullet wound in his foot, another had suffered a stroke and another had diabetes.
At the peak of the piracy outbreak in January 2011, Somali pirates held 736 hostages and 32 boats.
According to the OBP, while overall numbers are down in the western Indian Ocean, pirates in the region attacked at least 306 seafarers in 2015 .
While there has not been a successful attack on a commercial vessel since 2012, there have been several on fishing boats. Pirates still hold 10 Iranian hostages taken in 2015 and three Kenyan kidnap victims – one a seriously ill, paralysed woman, Mr Steed said.
* Agence France-Presse
Updated: October 24, 2016 04:00 AM