NEW DELHI:¬†Indian seafarers¬†who were held in captivity by¬†Somali pirates¬†for over a year have blamed¬†Pakistani crew members¬†of the ship, MT Royal Grace, for providing `inside information’ to the pirates and thus facilitating the hijacking of the vessel. They have told Indian authorities that the pirates were even speaking in Urdu. Apart from the 17 Indians on MT Royal Grace, 11 more Indians have been rescued by¬†the Indian mission¬†in Oman from another vessel, MT Smyrni.¬†
MT Royal Grace,¬†a Nigerian-owned ship¬†with a flag of convenience of Panama, was transiting from the UAE to Nigeria on March 12, 2012, when it was attacked by pirates off the coast of Oman. It was India’s diplomatic parleys with the President of Puntland in Somalia, Abdirahman Mohamed Mohamud Farole, which yielded success in this major anti-piracy effort. Farole had visited India last May.
The ship carrying the 17 Indians docked at¬†Salalah port¬†in Muscat on March 13 where the seafarers were received by people from the Indian mission who provided the victims food and accommodation.¬†The rescued Indian seafarers¬†have told authorities that the attack on the ship was an ‘inside job’ with the pirates receiving some assistance from within the crew. According to sources, the preferential treatment given to the Pakistani chief engineer, who was the only crewmember permitted to stay in his own cabin throughout the period of captivity, also raised suspicion amongst the crew that the pirates were repaying him for services rendered. “Some of the pirates, who were very well trained, also conversed, at times, in Urdu,” said a source.
Another crew member told authorities upon his arrival in India that the chief engineer was carrying an unusually large quantity of foodstuff, tobacco and toiletries inside his cabin, almost as though he had anticipated a lengthy sojourn away from port.
Most of the pirates were extremely young, below 25 years, and well-armed with AK-47s and pistols. “They appeared to have plenty of ammunition because they fired their weapons on a whim. Their behavior was extremely erratic and varied from being disarmingly friendly to downright savage. The leader of the pirates possessed a ‘GPS cum satellite phone,” said a source who met the seafarers in Muscat.
According to¬†MT Royal Grace¬†crew members, the owners of the ship made no effort to pay any ransom for the vessel nor did they attempt to negotiate the release of the crew. “Some felt that MT Royal Grace was only released because it was fortunate to be berthed in the vicinity of MT Smyrni and the pirates were perhaps prevailed upon by someone to release the Royal Grace as a gesture of goodwill when they released the MT Smyrni,” said an official.