Crew members of the M.V. Albedo are still being kept by pirates
While the latest footage purportedly showing seven Pakistanis among 22 sailors held hostage by Somali pirates for ransom might have upset the families who have been waiting for their release for the past 18 months, the authorities engaged in the process of getting them released against ransom payment were on Monday confident about 'good news' within the next few days.
The footage relayed by the news channels purports to show crew members of the M.V. Albedo - a Malaysian-flagged cargo ship - at an undisclosed location in the custody of armed Somali pirates. The seamen showed in the footage are visibly shaken and weak.
Ahmed Chinoy, the chief of the Citizens-Police Liaison Committee that has been instrumental in collecting 'donations' for 'ransom payment' and in contact with the pirates as well as the families of the hostages, see the footage as an attempt from the pirates to pressurise the people involved in the 'release process' to get their terms materialised.
"But we are moving fast and have made almost all arrangements at least at our end," he said. "We have collected $1.1 million for the ransom and as we are in contact with the pirates, the deadline for the payment is not an issue. But there are other anomalies that need to be addressed."
He explained that the government of Malaysia was in the process of completing legal and other formalities to get the ship owned by a Malaysian company released. He was optimistic that no more collection of funds would be needed once the Malaysian government was done with its job.
"I am very hopeful about good news within the next few days. Among 22 sailors, there are seven each from Pakistan and Bangladesh, six from Sri Lanka and one each from Iran and India. We have made tireless efforts to get the hostages freed regardless of what nationality they have," he added.
M.V. Albedo was sailing from the UAE to Kenya with all crew members on board in November 2010 when Somali pirates hijacked it.
The cargo ship was hijacked only a few months after the Somali pirates had held 22 crew members, including four Pakistanis, of M.V. Suez hostage in August 2010. It was only after the payment of $2.1 million ransom in June 2011 that they released the MV Suez crew comprising four Pakistanis, six Indians, 11 Egyptians and one Sri Lankan.
With the incidents of piracy increasing, local and international authorities are under pressure to design a mechanism for the security of cargo ships, including the deployment of armed guards on vessels, but shippers argue that it would add to the risks to the business.
"Of the world's 53 hijackings of cargo ships for ransom last year, 49 took place off the coast of Somalia," said an official at the directorate ports and shipping. "A number of Pakistani seamen were among those taken hostage by Somali pirates with dozens of their foreign colleagues kept hostage for ransom by pirates for as long as a year."