‘We will celebrate with the crew of Stolt Valor’ (Lead)

November 17th, 2008 - 9:32 pm ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, Nov 17 (IANS) Captain Pannikar Unnikrishna’s joy knows no bounds. He spoke to his son, one of the 18 Indian sailors on board the hijacked Japanese vessel Mt Stolt Valor that was freed Sunday, two months after Somalian pirates seized it. The ship will reach Mumbai around Nov 24, a relieved Unnikrishna said Monday. Unnikrishna was able to speak to his son Ullas Krishna, the second-in-command of Stolt Valor, Monday.

“As the news of the release of the ship came, I distributed sweets. For the actual celebrations we are waiting for him (Ullas Krishna). We will do the celebrations with him,” an elated Unnikrishna told IANS by phone from Mumbai.

Unnikrishna, who is in the merchant navy, hails from Calicut and has been camping in Mumbai for the past month. He has been running from pillar to post for the release of the hijacked ship.

“I spoke to the captain of the ship, Prabhat Goyal, and my son at about 1 p.m. today (Monday). They confirmed that everybody was well on the ship. In fact, my son jokingly said that he has gained weight as there was no work to do during those two months.”

“The speed of the ship is not very good. The boys will reach Mumbai around Nov 24,” Unnikrishna said.

Mt Stolt Valor was taken by a group of Somalian pirates off Yemen coast Sep 15 while it was bound for Mumbai from the Suez Canal. The pirates took the vessel to the Somalian coast and demanded a ransom of $2 million.

After being freed, the ship started sailing for Mumbai Sunday morning.

“The ship is still sailing through the danger zone and will reach Mumbai shortly,” Captain P.S. Rangnekar, general manager of Ebony Ship Management Pvt. Ltd, said by phone from Mumbai.

The Gulf of Aden is one of the busiest, but most pirate-infested, shipping lanes in the world. India contributes to around 80 percent of the merchant sailors in the region.

“The union of merchant companies tried to put pressure on the Indian government. The government on its own should have taken the action,” said Rangnekar.

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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