Wednesday, July 27, 2005
Gunmen have pledged to release the crew of a United Nations-chartered vessel carrying food aid for Somali tsunami victims which was hijacked off Somalia's coast last month, the ship owners have said. After weeks of intense, delicate and frustrating negotiations, the hijackers got word to diplomats that the crew would be freed, according to Karim Kudrathi of the Motaku Shipping Agency in the Kenyan port of Mombasa which owns the vessel.
The MV Semlow"We have had the information (that they will be freed) from the Kenyan ambassador to Somalia but we are still waiting for their release," he said from Mombasa. "We talked with the ship's captain who told us that they had not yet left the ship," Kudrathi said, adding that his understanding was that only the crew would be released and not the cargo or the vessel itself. The UN World Food Programme (WFP), which chartered the ship and suspended aid deliveries to Somalia pending its release, said it was aware of reports of movements in the matter but could not confirm any developments. The hijackers stormed the freighter carrying 850 tonnes of Japanese- and German-donated rice about 300km north-east of Mogadishu on June 27 and had been demanding a $500,000 ransom for the release of the crew, ship and its contents. The WFP has repeatedly refused to pay any ransom and negotiations between the hijackers, Somali elders and politicians and foreign diplomats had dragged on for weeks without any result. The ship, the St Vincent and the Grenadines-registered MV Semlow, was on its way from Mombasa to Bossaso in Somalia's north-east Puntland region when it fell afoul of the pirates in waters deemed highly unsafe by international maritime agencies. Both the International Maritime Board (IMB), a division of the International Chamber of Commerce, and the US have in recent months issued increasingly dire alerts about threats to shipping off the Somali coast. The IMB said last week that the coast of Somalia, which had seen few attacks for almost two years, has suffered a resurgence of assaults by pirates with guns and grenades, with nine incidents recorded in the past three months. Earlier this year, the IMB advised vessels not making calls in the region to stay at least 85km, and preferably further, from the coast of the lawless nation.