Somalian pirates have freed a Taiwanese and 25 other Asian hostages held for more than four-and-a-half years after the hijacking of their fishing vessel, the last commercial ship seized at the height of the country’s piracy scourge, negotiators said on Saturday.
The crew of the Naham 3, the second-longest held hostage by Somalian pirates, were taken captive when their Omani-flagged vessel was seized in March 2012 south of the Seychelles.
“We are very pleased to announce the release of the Naham 3 crew early this morning,” said Hostage Support Partners coordinator John Steed, who helped negotiate their release.
Steed, a retired British army colonel who has made it his mission to save “forgotten hostages,” told reporters that the mission to return the crew to their families still held one obstacle — extracting them from the Somalian city of Galkayo, where fighting was raging between forces from the rival regional states of Puntland and Galmudug.
“There is fighting in Galkayo, so it is very dangerous at the moment. They are exchanging artillery tonight. We will go in early tomorrow morning if the fighting stops and bring them back to Nairobi for medicals and a cleanup,” he said.
Clashes in Galkayo have left at least 11 dead and more than 50,000 displaced this month, the UN humanitarian agency said last week.
Once extracted, the crew, from Taiwan, Cambodia, China, Indonesia, the Philippines and Vietnam, are to be returned to their home nations and families.
“They have spent over four-and-a-half years in deplorable conditions away from their families,” Steed said.
He said the crew was malnourished and one of the hostages had a bullet wound in his foot, another had had a stroke and another was suffering from diabetes.
Pirates initially took 29 crew hostage, but one person died during the hijacking and two more “succumbed to illness” during their captivity, a statement from Oceans Beyond Piracy said.
Steed said negotiations — which took 18 months — involved mediation with community, tribal and religious leaders.
He declined to comment on the exact details, but said the road to the hostages being freed was filled with peril and “heroism.”
The Naham 3 was originally tethered to another hijacked vessel, the MV Albedo, which was seized in November 2010 and released by Hostage Support Partners in 2014.
When the MV Albedo began to sink, “these guys jumped into the waters and rescued the drowning crew,” Steed said.
He said when the Naham 3 sank, a year after its capture, “these guys were then taken ashore where they have been ever since, with pirates making increasingly irrational demands.”
“The release of the Naham 3 crew represents the end of captivity for the last remaining seafarers taken hostage during the height of Somali piracy,” he said.
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