Families of Indian sailors abducted by Somali pirates camp outside shipping ministry
With just three days to go for the deadline set by Somali pirates to end, families of Indian sailors in their custody camped outside the office of the Shipping Ministry and implored the government to secure their release.
The pirates, who hijacked the United Arab Emirates (UAE)-owned MT Royal Grace in March, have set November 30 as the deadline for their demands to be met, failing which they have threatened to kill the 17 Indian sailors on board the ship.
The relatives of the sailors said that the government had only 'empty' assurances to offer.
"We have come here twice, and the government has given us nothing but empty promises. The Somali pirates have threatened to kill our children if the government does not give in to their demands by November 30. That is why we have all gathered here," said Chandran, the father of an abducted sailor.
"We get no news of our children, and are unable to talk to them on the phone either. My son has two children, aged six and three," added Mahtab, the mother of a sailor, Sahid, aboard the same ship.
Shipping Minister G. K. Vasan said that efforts were continuing to secure the sailors' release.
"This is a process which we are continuously doing. Around 200 of our sailors have been abducted by Somali pirates in the past five years. Because of the discreet and strategic functioning of the government, we have been able to release around 160 of them. Another 42 sailors are still there in captivity. Their lives are very important. We are very concerned about their safety," Vasan said.
War torn Somalia is next to the Gulf of Aden's busy shipping lanes, and poverty has in recent years tempted many young men to take up piracy, storming commercial vessels and holding their crews and cargo to ransom.
Somali pirate attacks fell to their lowest in three years in the first nine months of 2012 as tougher navy action and private armed security teams deterred gangs, a maritime watchdog said.
Last year, Somali piracy in the busy shipping lanes of the Gulf of Aden and the northwestern Indian Ocean netted USD 160 million, and cost the world economy some USD 7 billion, according to the American One Earth Future foundation.
In the January to September period, attacks involving Somali pirates fell to 70 compared with 199 incidents in the first nine months of last year and was at its lowest since 2009, the International Maritime Bureau (IMB) said.