Ordeal ends for Indian sailors’ families (With: Hijacked ship with 18 Indians on board freed)

November 16th, 2008 - 6:35 pm ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, Nov 16 (IANS) With the release of the 18 Indian sailors aboard the hijacked Japanese ship Mt Stolt Valor Sunday, their anxiety-laden families breathed easy for the first time in two months and are awaiting their return home.The Japanese ship Mt Stolt Valor was hijacked in the Gulf of Aden by Somalian pirates two months ago.

Seema Goyal, the wife of the ship’s captain Prabhat Kumar Goyal, was persistently campaigning for the release of the merchant vessel. She has now thanked the Indian government and the country for supporting her.

“I thank all the Indians who prayed for the safe release of Stolt Valor and joined hands with me for the cause. I really look forward to the people coming back in three-four days,” an emotional Seema said in a choked voice.

Her world came crashing after a 30-second phone call from Prabhat on the evening of Sep 15. “It was 5.12 p.m. And all he said was ‘there’s a hijack. Inform everyone’,” she recalled.

The Japanese vessel was taken over by the Somalian pirates off Yemen coast Sep 15 as it was bound for Mumbai from the Suez Canal. The pirates then took the vessel to the Somalian coast and demanded a ransom of $2 million.

Since then Seema was fighting a battle on behalf of the families of the 18 Indian crew members on board - running from political leaders to bureaucrats to talking to the ship’s management company.

Ullas Krishna’s father Captain P. Unnikrishna is also a “happy man” with the released ship setting off for Mumbai Sunday.

“I am happy and thank everybody who prayed for us. Till now we do not have any (further) news from the staff on board. It (the release) has come after a long wait. Everybody was crying and praying. I have been in Mumbai for the last one month, daily visiting the DG (Director General) Shipping’s office,” a visibly relieved Unnikrishna told reporters in Mumbai.

“I am thankful to the Indian government and the Japanese company. The company has been kind enough to have paid the ransom,” he added.

The Gulf of Aden is one of the busiest but most pirate-infested shipping lanes in the world.

According to figures from the International Maritime Bureau (IMB), there were 37 incidents of piracy off the Somalia coast between mid-March 2005 and mid-February 2006, compared to just two in 2004.

The IMB says 74 ships have been attacked off Somalia since January, of which 30 were hijacked and 10 are still held for ransom. Pirates are holding almost 200 crew.

Experts say many attacks go unreported along Somalia’s 3,700-km (2,300-mile) coast where heavily-armed pirates operate high-powered speedboats.

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