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Saturday, June 18, 2011

Freed crew of MV Suez to arrive in Salalah today

Times Of Oman
June 18, 2011

MUSCAT: Six Indians and 16 other crew members of an Egyptian-owned merchant vessel, recently freed by Somali pirates following 10 months in captivity, would be reaching Salalah by today evening.

"We are safe now. We cannot express our happiness in words," Captain Wasi Hassan told Times of Oman. "After 10 months of ordeal, we'll now breathe freedom as we are nearing Salalah."

The vessel was scheduled to reach Salalah port yesterday evening. But its speed slowed down considerably after one of its engines stopped functioning. "We are out of danger now. If the pirates attack us again, we'll throw them in danger. Eight Pakistani naval commandos are currently on board and a naval helicopter is providing us close air support," Wasi said.

Kind-hearted people

Pakistani Navy's PNS Babur, a frigate that is part of a Coalition Task Force engaged in anti-piracy operations, is currently escorting MV Suez to Salalah. Food supplies, medicines and water are among the things that the warship is carrying for the exhausted crew members, some of who are too ill.

"The Pakistani government and the kind-hearted people there helped us a lot. We'll always be grateful to them. We'll never forget them," Wasi added.

According to the current plan, the 22-member crew, including six Indians, four Pakistanis, one Sri Lankan and 11 Egyptian nationals, will travel to Muscat. From Muscat, the crew members will be sent back to their countries by air. The crew will be repatriated by June 20.

MV Suez was released by Somali pirates against a ransom of $2.1 million last Monday. Pakistan-based human rights campaigner Ansar Burney negotiated with the pirates for the release of the sailors. He raised the money for ransom through donations.

Meanwhile, the Pakistani media reported last Thursday that the vessel had again been attacked by pirates, but a Pakistan Navy spokesman had said all such reports were unconfirmed. MV Suez was seized on August 2, 2010. In the early hours of that day, the vessel came under fire from a pirate attack in the Gulf of Aden, and minutes later, the crew reported pirates on board. The vessel was coming from Karachi port (Pakistan) from where it had left on July 27, 2010.

After the incident, attempts were made by the navies guarding the area to make contact with MV Suez, but to no avail. Egyptian-owned MV Suez was sailing under flag of convenience of Panama in the Internationally Recommended Transit Corridor (IRTC), when it was attacked.

After the first report, a helicopter was immediately directed to the ship, but pirates had already taken over the command of the vessel, EU NAVFOR reported.

Two Nato warships, HNLMS De Zeven Provinci√É«n and USS Cole, from the Nato counter piracy task force undertaking Operation OCEAN SHIELD, and a Singaporean warship the RSS Endurance from the CMF taskforce, were within 40 miles of MV Suez at the time of the attack.

Despite reacting within 10 minutes of getting information, naval forces were unable to prevent the attack as the pirates had been able to board the ship within five minutes, Nato reported.

Meanwhile, the Somali pirates have freed a German-owned cargo ship, seized in April, after they received a ransom, a pirate and maritime source said yesterday.

The Antigua and Barbuda-flagged Susan K, with its crew of 10 Ukrainians and Filipinos, was released last Thursday.

"The German cargo ship has now sailed away. We have taken $5.7 million in ransom," pirate Ibrahim told Reuters by phone from coastal Ras Guna, in semi-autonomous state of Puntland.

Andrew Mwangura, maritime editor of The Somalia Report, confirmed the release. He said the ransom had been paid in the Kenyan port city of Mombasa.


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