UN coordinates repatriation of longest-held Somali pirate hostages

Tuesday, January 01, 2013
Rescued hostages disembarking from a UN plane 
[PHOTO: UNifeed] 
Bossaso, Somalia: The UN is coordinating the repatriation of hostages recently rescued from Somali pirates after almost three years in captivity.

These longest-held hostages by Somali pirates were released after a successful 15-day operation by the Puntland Maritime Police Force on 23 December 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 Somali region of Puntland, say they attacked the ship near the village of Gara'ad, in the Mudug region on 10 December. Officials report that one police officer and three pirates were killed in the ensuing gun battle. Three pirates were arrested while several others escaped. Two hostages had died under unknown circumstances during the 33-month kidnapping.

Government official Abdirizak Ahmad said the hostages' home countries had pressured the authorities in Puntland to take action.

"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," Ahmad said.

After their rescue on 23 December, the Ghanaian, Pakistani, Indian, Sudanese 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 30 December and is coordinating repatriation efforts to their respective countries.

The former hostages say their captors had original demanded a ransom of ten million US dollars. They also tell of severe beatings, torture and elation when their 1000-day ordeal ended.

Jewel Kwesi Ahiable, a released hostage from Ghana, articulates, "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."

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.

According to Leonardo Hoy-Carrasco, Associate Hostage Release & Repatriation Officer, UNPOS, "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."

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. -UNifeed
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