Hijacked ship with 18 Indians on board freed (Lead)

November 16th, 2008 - 1:07 pm ICT by IANS  

New Delhi/Mumbai, Nov 16 (IANS) Mt Stolt Valor, the cargo vessel with 22 crew members including 18 Indians on board that was hijacked in the Gulf of Aden two months ago, was freed Sunday morning by Somalian pirates and has set off for Mumbai, shipping officials said.All the crew members on board the ship are “safe and in healthy condition”, National Union of Seafarers of India’s General Secretary A.G. Serang told IANS from Hong Kong.

The vessel was released at around 7.45 a.m. Indian time and will reach Mumbai in another three to four days.

Serang said: “Now the relevant official formalities of the different governments of different countries and shipping authorities are being worked out and very soon all the crew members shall be reunited with their respective families.”

The vessel, owned by a Japanese company and managed by Fleet Marine Ltd. Mumbai, was bound for Mumbai from Suez when Somalian pirates hijacked it Sep 15. Pirates took the hijacked ship to the eastern coast of Somalia. Apart from the 18 Indians, the crew comprised two Filipinos, one Bangladeshi and one Russian.

An emotional Seema Goyal, wife of the ship’s captain Prabhat Kumar Goyal, thanked “all the Indians” for supporting her crusade to free the crew members.

Mt Stolt Valor was carrying a 24,000-tonne consignment of oil products at the time of the hijack. The ship was held at the pirate town of Eyl on the Indian Ocean even as the pirates began negotiating a $2 million ransom.

Initial reports suggest that the Japanese shipping company has paid ransom to the pirates after protracted negotiations that also involved international maritime bodies. However, the ransom amount is unclear.

“The Indian Navy is closely monitoring the ship and will provide security if asked for,” Indian Navy spokesman Commander Neerad Sinha said in New Delhi.

Somalia, lying to the north of Madagascar, has been identified by the International Maritime Bureau (IMB) as the area with the highest piracy risk in the world. Nearly 60 attacks on merchant ships have been reported this year alone. About 20 merchant ships are still being held by Somali pirates even as warships from European countries including Russia are patrolling the Gulf of Aden.

For India, monitoring the waters off Africa’s east coast is an essential part of security of energy supplies coming through the Indian Ocean. The Indian Navy has already made a beginning in this direction by deploying, for the first time, a warship in the Gulf of Aden to conduct anti-piracy patrols along the route that Indian merchant vessels normally take during their passage between Salalah in Oman and Aden.

The release of Mt Stolt Valor comes barely a week after the Indian Navy’s stealth frigate INS Tabar repulsed a pirate attack on a Saudi Arabian merchant ship and an Indian cargo vessel.

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