Chi­nese hostages freed by pi­rates are head­ing home

Ar­rival set for Tues­day; ill sailor is still in Kenya

China Daily (USA) - - FRONT PAGE - By PAN ZHONGMING in Nairobi and WANG QINGYUN in Beijing

Nine of the 10 Chi­nese sailors re­leased af­ter fourand-a-half years as hostages of So­mali pi­rates boarded a China South­ern Air­lines flight home from Kenya’s cap­i­tal, Nairobi, on Mon­day.

One who is sick re­mained in Kenya.

The sailors, es­corted by a work­ing group of the For­eign Min­istry, were ex­pected to ar­rive in Guangzhou, Guang­dong prov­ince, on Tues­day morn­ing be­fore go­ing to their home­towns.

The 10 Chi­nese sailors — nine from the Chi­nese main­land and one from Tai­wan — were among 26 hostages re­leased by pi­rates in So­ma­lia on Satur­day. The oth­ers are from In­done­sia, the Philip­pines, Cam­bo­dia and Viet­nam. They were the last of the sailors taken hostage at the height of So­mali piracy, al­though sev­eral hostages taken later still re­main.

Chi­nese For­eign Min­istry spokesman Lu Kang, at a reg­u­lar news brief­ing on Mon­day, said China has al­ways put pri­or­ity on en­sur­ing the life and se­cu­rity of the crew mem­bers, and he thanked the agen­cies and peo­ple in­volved in gain­ing the sailors’ re­lease.

The sailors were taken cap­tive when their Omani-flagged fish­ing ves­sel, theNa­ham 3, was seized in March 2012 south of the Sey­chelles.

Pi­rates ini­tially took 29 crew mem­bers hostage, but one per­son died dur­ing the hi­jack­ing and two more “suc­cumbed to ill­ness” dur­ing their cap­tiv­ity, ac­cord­ing to a state­ment from the US-based group Oceans Be­yond Piracy. Of the three who died, one was from the Chi­nese main­land and one from Tai­wan.

“Am so, so happy. Really, am so, so happy. ... Thanks to you all,” one of the hostages, Sudi Ah­man, whose coun­try was not im­me­di­ately known, said af­ter be­ing flown to Kenya on Sun­day.

Some of the sailors were un­able to hold back tears on Sun­day, while oth­ers hugged each other and smiled broadly.

Bile Hus­sein, a rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the pi­rates, was quoted by me­dia as say­ing that $1.5 mil­lion in ran­som was paid for the sailors’ re­lease. The claim could not be in­de­pen­dently ver­i­fied.

John Steed, co­or­di­na­tor of Hostage Sup­port Part­ners, which helped ne­go­ti­ate the re­lease, had gone to the So­mali city of Galkayo to

fetch the crew of the Na­ham 3, who had been held hostage for longer than any other crew ex­cept for four Thais re­leased last year af­ter nearly five years in cap­tiv­ity.

“The crew mem­bers are all mal­nour­ished. ... They have spent over four-and-a-half years in de­plorable con­di­tions away from their fam­i­lies,” he said.

“We have achieved what we achieved to­day by get­ting el­ders, the re­li­gious com­mu­nity and lo­cal lead­ers and re­gional govern­ment all in­volved to put pres­sure on these guys to re­lease the hostages,” Steed added.

He said one of the hostages had a bul­let wound in a foot, one had suf­fered a stroke and an­other had di­a­betes.

The weak­ness of So­ma­lia’s cen­tral govern­ment made it hard for ne­go­tia­tors to reach “emer­gency con­tacts”, thus com­pro­mis­ing in­ter­gov­ern­men­tal ef­forts, said Yuan Tiecheng of Riskon In­ter­na­tional, a Beijing-based se­cu­rity ser­vice provider.

Such cases usu­ally re­quire in­volve­ment of pri­vate par­tic­i­pants, since a large role by gov­ern­ments might in­duce kid­nap­pers to raise the ran­som amount, Yuan added.

Wang Han­ling, a re­searcher of mar­itime law of the Chi­nese Acad­emy of So­cial Sciences, said the re­lease was dif­fi­cult due to the fact that mar­itime piracy had be­come or­ga­nized in the re­gion.

“The suc­cess­ful re­lease shows that the Chi­nese govern­ment has in­deed tried all it can to en­sure the safety of the sailors held hostage, and that China’s diplo­macy is for its peo­ple,” Wang said.

In­ter­na­tional me­di­a­tors said the ac­tion marks a turn­ing point in the long bat­tle against So­mali piracy.

Piracy off So­ma­lia’s coast was once a se­ri­ous threat to the global ship­ping in­dus­try. At­tacks have dropped off dra­mat­i­cally in re­cent years amid pa­trols by the navies of China, In­dia andNATO coun­tries.

Wang, the CASS re­searcher, said the in­ci­dent shows that it’s nec­es­sary to con­tinue such pa­trols to en­sure the safety of the re­gion.

At the peak of the piracy epi­demic in Jan­uary 2011, So­mali pi­rates held 736 hostages and 32 boats.

Ac­cord­ing to Oceans Be­yond Piracy, while over­all numbers are down in the Western In­dian Ocean, pi­rates in the re­gion at­tacked at least 306 sea­far­ers last year.

While there has not been a suc­cess­ful at­tack on a com­mer­cial ves­sel since 2012, there have been sev­eral on fish­ing boats. Ten Ira­ni­ans taken hostage last year and three Kenyans — one a se­ri­ously ill, par­a­lyzed woman — re­main in the hands of pi­rates, said Steed.

They have spent over four-and-ahalf years in de­plorable con­di­tions ...” John Steed, co­or­di­na­tor of Hostage Sup­port Part­ners

Agence France-Presse and The As­so­ci­ated Press contributed to this story.

AP

Sailors who were re­leased in So­ma­lia af­ter be­ing held hostage by pi­rates for more than four years smile, with tears in their eyes, as they ar­rive in Nairobi, Kenya, on Sun­day.

SUN RUIBO / XIN­HUA

One of the Chi­nese sailors ar­rives at Keny­atta In­ter­na­tional Air­port in Nairobi, Kenya, on Sun­day.

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