SOMALIA: RELEASED HOSTAGES
SOURCE: AU/UN IST
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CREDIT REQUIRED: AU/UN IST
LANGUAGE: ENGLISH /NATS
DATELINE: 30 DECEMBER 2012, BOSSASO, SOMALIA
The longest-held hostages by Somali pirates were released after a successful 15-day operation by the Puntland Maritime Police Force (PMPF) on December 23, 2012.
24 crew members of the MV Iceberg 1 were captured in March 2010 when the Panama-flagged vessel, which is owned by a Dubai-based company, was hijacked in the Gulf of Aden.
Maritime police from the region of Puntland, say they attacked the ship near the village of Gara'ad, in the Mudug region on December 10. Officials report that one police officer and three pirates were killed in the ensuing gun battle. The pirates were arrested while several others escaped. Two hostages had died under unknown circumstances during the 33-month kidnapping.
SOUNDBITE (English) Abdirizak Ahmed, Director-General, Puntland Ministry of Counter-Piracy & Maritime Security:
"The governments of these people they keep asking us when are these people coming outside, and every time, every morning, we have been receiving a call from the international community, when are you going to rescue these people, so it was very important to take this action."
After their rescue on December 23, the Ghanaian, Pakistani, Indian, Sudanese, Yemeni and Filipino survivors were taken by road to Bossaso, the regional capital.
The Hostage Relief Programme run by the UN Political Office for Somalia (UNPOS) and UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) assisted with their evacuation from Somalia to Nairobi on December 30 and is coordinating repatriation efforts to their respective countries.
The former hostages say their captors had original demanded a ransom of 10 million US dollars. They also tell of severe beatings, torture and elation when their 1000-day ordeal ended.
SOUNDBITE (English) Jewel Kwesi Ahiable, Ghanaian electrical engineer:
"It was…tears of joy for us, we were not knowing who we were going to meet outside, we were taken in barges, the boat came three times and took all of us outside, we got to there, and first for almost three years, we got there, and in fact we got on our knees to thank the almighty god for saving our lives."
Apart from organising safe passage from Somalia, UNPOS and UNODC also organised medical checkups for the former hostages, helped with the necessary travel documentation and liaised with the relevant embassies and organizations.
SOUNDBITE (English) Leonardo Hoy-Carrasco, Associate Hostage Release & Repatriation Officer, UNPOS:
"The future continues in more and more cooperation, we need to integrate more and more these institutions and everybody who knows anything about counter-piracy and hostages, the only solution to counter-piracy apart from what is already being done is that we all try to put our reference in the same place and pull together in the same direction."
Although officials report that piracy numbers have dropped by over 50 percent this year due to local and international counter-piracy efforts, there about 100 hostages still being held by Somali pirates.