Freed after 10 months, Indian sailors to return home (Lead)

June 23rd, 2011 - 10:43 pm ICT by IANS  

Karachi/New Delhi, June 23 (IANS) Six Indian sailors, who were among the 22-member crew of an Egyptian cargo vessel held captive by Somali pirates for nearly 10 months, reached Karachi Thursday and are expected to return home Friday.

The crew of the MV Suez, including 11 Egyptians, four Pakistanis and a Sri Lankan, received an emotional welcome when Pakistani naval ship PNS Zulfiqar carrying them docked at Karachi harbour.

Suhail Izaz Khan, counsellor from the Indian high commission in Islamabad, received the Indian sailors in Karachi.

Sindh province Governor Ishrat-ul-Ibad and other senior officials were present at the Karachi port to receive the freed sailors.

The Egyptian-owned ship was hijacked by Somali pirates in August last year. The pirates released the ship and the crew after a $2.1 million ransom was paid to them by a Pakistani organisation, the Ansar Burney Trust, named after the known human rights activist and former minister.

Sarim Burney, an official with the trust and brother of Ansar Burney, told a Pakistani TV channel that no government was involved in the negotiation with pirates to secure the release of hijacked crew and the merchant vessel.

Burney said that the ransom money was raised through private donations from Pakistanis and paid through a shipping company.

A ceremony was organised at the Sindh Governor House late Thursday evening to welcome the freed sailors.

The governor told a news conference that the gesture to secure the release of captivated sailors was “the message of love”.

“I hope India will reciprocate with love. Indian sailors have been also released,” he said on the day India and Pakistani foreign secretaries began two-day talks in Islamabad focusing on peace and confidence-building measures.

Back home in India, family members of the released sailors burst into joyful tears as they watched TV to see the news reports of their release.

“I am very happy to hear the news,” Madhu Sharma, wife of sailor N.K. Sharma, told Times Now news channel.

She said the last few months were full of uncertainties for her and her family. “I am happy now. I last spoke to my husband when he was getting on to the Pakistani ship,” she said.

Shamsher Singh, whose son Satnam Singh is among the released sailors, said he had lost all hopes during the past 10 months. “After I spoke to Ansar Burney in April, my hope was rekindled. I hope to see my son alive now.”

At the Karachi port, emotional scenes were witnessed as the relatives of the sailors met their dear ones for the first time in months after they were freed by pirates last week. Pakistani sailors were greeted with rose petals.

Laila Wasi, the daughter of MV Suez’s captain, burst into tears as she met her father for the first time since he and 21 other crewmembers of the vessel were captured.

Laila told reporters that the promise made by the Sindh governor to bring her father back home was fulfilled, The News reported.

Captain Wasi thanked the governor and the media for their support. He also thanked the naval ships PNS Zulfiqar and PNS Babar for bringing them back home.

The Pakistan Navy launched the Operation Umeed-e-Nau (New Hope) to rescue the crew. The release of captivated sailors was mired in controversy, with India and Pakistani navies accusing each other of getting into risky and dangerous manoeuvres when the freed vessel was being escorted.

Pakistan alleged that Indian warship INS Godavari brushed with its frigate PNS Babar.

India denied the allegations and said it was the Pakistani warship that came close to INS Godavari. The Indian Navy released some photographs to substantiate its claims.

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