But, fate of six aboard m.v. Suez not known

Somali pirates on Wednesday freed all crew members of a hijacked ship m.v. Rak Afrikana including 11 Indians, who have since been shifted to a Spanish naval ship.

However, the fate of six Indians aboard another hijacked vessel m.v. Suez still hangs in the balance even as its owner has been persuaded by the Egyptian government to hold negotiations. He has baulked at the increase in ransom demanded by the pirates.

The Indian Navy and the Consulate in Dubai had requested the Spanish Navy to use its vessel located near Afrikana to rescue the 11 Indian crew members. Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao said all of them were safe aboard the Spanish naval ship.

The Shipping Ministry had approached the Defence Ministry to bring ashore Afrikana, said to be in bad shape, having developed technical problems and running short of water and diesel.

Afrikana, registered in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, was taken over by the Somali pirates about a year ago and it continues to be on high seas even after its release. The ship was captured on April 11, 2010 about 280 nautical miles west of the Seychelles and 23 crew members were taken hostage.

Officials were tight-lipped on what happened behind the release of Africana.

Echo in Lok Sabha

The issue was raised in the Lok Sabha, where members of the Bharatiya Janata Party staged a walkout claiming that the government was ineffective in securing the release of 79 Indians held by Somali pirates.

The reference was to the capture of m.v. Suez and the fate of six Indians aboard the ship, and not to the vessel from which 11 Indians were released.

Leader of the Opposition Sushma Swaraj said deadline for the execution of eight of the 79 Indian sailors was to expire on Wednesday.

External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna assured the House that the government was doing everything possible for the release of Indian sailors. He said 215 Indians were among those whose ships had been captured by the pirates, and 136 of them were released. “At present, there are 79 Indians on seven ships that are in the custody of Somali pirates.”

The Minister said he had held talks with the Egyptian ambassador, who promised all assistance for the safe and quick release of the hostages. The Indian envoys in Egypt and Dubai were also making efforts.

The BJP, however, was not satisfied with Mr. Krishna's response. Egyptian Ambassador Khaled el Bakly said: “Egypt is doing all it can. I am on the phone every day, talking to Cairo. But please understand, it is prohibited under international law to negotiate with pirates.”

Envoy upset at reports

The Egyptian Ambassador took umbrage at media reports focussing on the Egyptian vessel and its owner. “We opened our ports to thousands of Indians fleeing Libya. We put them on our planes. We should talk about that too. All that the Egyptian government can do is to persuade the owner of the vessel to negotiate. Media reports also say that the French and the British have rescued their citizens. Under international law this is not allowed. Let us know how this was done,” he said.

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