Pirates free 26 sailors held for 4 years

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The freed Asian sailors
The Asian sailors freed by Somali pirates after ransom collected

Somali pirates have freed 26 Asian sailors captured since 2012, after collecting a ransom of $1.5million.

The sailors from China, the Philippines, Cambodia, Taiwan, Indonesia were held For 1,672 days in deplorable conditions. They were held at Dabagala near the town of Harardheere some 400 km (250 miles) northeast of the capital Mogadishu. Harardheere became known as Somalia’s main pirate base at the height of the crisis.

International mediators said their release represents the end of captivity for the last remaining seafarers taken hostage at the height of the Somali piracy crisis.

Only a crew of Thai fishermen, released by the pirates in February last year after nearly five years in captivity, spent longer time in captivity.

One pirate, Bile Hussein, said the sailors were the crew of the FV Naham 3, a Taiwan-owned, Omani-flagged fishing vessel seized south of the Seychelles in March 2012.

The 26 sailors “are currently in the safe hands of the Galmudug authorities and will be repatriated using a UN humanitarian flight shortly and then on to their home countries,” said John Steed, the coordinator of the Hostage Support Partners for the US-based organisation Oceans Beyond Piracy (OBP).

The statement included a photo, stamped August 14, showing the thin, grim crewmen standing or squatting together as proof they remained alive.

“They are reported to be in reasonable condition, considering their ordeal,” Steed, a retired British army colonel said.

“They are all malnourished. Four are currently receiving medical treatment by a doctor in Galkayo. They have spent over four-and-a-half years in deplorable conditions away from their families.”

He said another member of the crew died in the hijacking and two died of illness in captivity.

Steed noted that many of the hostages still languishing in the hands of pirates are poor fishermen.

The saved crew are expected in Nairobi, Kenya later today.

The first major commercial vessel was hijacked by Somali pirates in 2005 and the industry flourished in a country wracked by years of civil war, with few jobs and no central government.

Piracy became a major threat to international shipping and prompted interventions by the UN, EU and Nato, while commercial vessels hired private armed guards aboard their vessels.

In 2012, Somali piracy cost the global economy between US$5.7 and US$6.1 billion and at the peak 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 in 2015 attacked at least 306 seafarers.

While there has not been a successful attack on a commercial vessel since 2012, there have been several on fishing boats and there are still 10 Iranian hostages taken in 2015 and three Kenyan kidnap victims – one a very ill, paralysed woman – in the hands of the pirates, said Steed.

*Source: AFP and Reuters

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