India has sought the help of Nigeria for early release of its 17 sailors held hostage by Somali pirates on board MT Royal Grace, owned by a Nigerian, for the past 10 months.

This has been communicated by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to Rajya Sabha member K.N. Balagopal, who pressed for his intervention on the issue.

In his letter to the CPI (M) MP, Mr. Singh termed piracy a “menace” and said the government was deeply concerned over the “continuing incarceration” of Indian sailors by Somali pirates.

“Regarding the MT Royal Grace, government has sought the intervention of the Nigerian government to press the Nigerian ship owner to engage with the Somali pirates for the early release of the captive sailors. Our High Commission is pursuing the matter directly with the ship owner,” the Prime Minister said.

He said the government has also sought the intervention of the Somali authorities.

Mr. Balagopal had submitted a memorandum recently to the Prime Minister, inviting his attention to the plight of Indian sailors. The issue also figured in the winter session of Parliament with members seeking immediate steps by the government to secure their early release.

Mr. Singh said measures are also being taken by the government for the welfare of the families of the Indian sailors, including through ex-gratia payment.

“A Committee of Secretaries headed by Cabinet Secretary and an inter-Ministerial Group led by the Ministry of Shipping are regularly monitoring developments,” he said.

The Prime Minister said the government’s persistent efforts have seen some success with the recent release of five sailors who were on board MV Iceberg.

Mr. Singh said government has stepped up diplomatic efforts, including the U.N. framework, on the issue. He said India has led the United Nations Contact Group on Priacy off the Coast of Somalia calling for a more “concerted international response to the menace of piracy.”

Sharing the anguish and concerns of the hostages and their families in India, Mr. Singh assured the MP that the government will continue with its efforts for the early release of sailors.

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