How charity helped the MV Albedo hostages

Colonel John Steed (retd.), consultant to the UNODC’s maritime crime programme, has spoken to IHS Maritime about the recent escape/release of the final hostages from the MV Albedo, hijacked in November 2010.

Many of the details surrounding the men’s release are a mystery, and will no doubt remain so for operational reasons. However, we do know that the men apparently escaped their captors by climbing out of a window and making a break through the bush to a local village, where they were met by officials from the Galmugud administration. What is less clear, however, is how that was made possible.

Various versions of events have circulated, with Tradewinds reporting that a ransom of $2 million was paid to the pirates holding the men. From other sources, we’ve heard that there was a split in the pirate gang and that one faction essentially allowed the escape in return for the ransom, while their fellow pirates were unaware and were holding out for more money.

Col Steed would not be drawn on discussions over the alleged ransom, telling IHS that piracy was “a thing of the past” thanks to armed guards and naval activity in the region curtailing pirate attacks.

Following the escape, Bangladeshi newspaper, The Daily Star quoted former hostage, Nurul Haque, as saying: “We convinced our translator he could keep the ransom money UN pays if he helped us escape. From then on our lives depended on how much we could trust him.” The report stated that the translator gave the prisoners a mobile phone so that they could communicate with UN officials, who had offered him $200,000 to help.

Steed confirmed that the UNODC had handled the operational and logistical aspects of the rescue, while the charity, the Maritime Piracy Human Response Programme (MPHRP), paid for the operation. “The UN collected the hostages from an airfield in Galmudug. All of the above was carefully co-ordinated by the UN Hostage Support Team in Nairobi and a negotiator working for the charity,” Colonel Steed told IHS.

While the details may be unclear, what is certain is that the men were only freed thanks to the efforts of the UNODC and the MPHRP. Without them, there is no doubt that the men would still be in Somalia, at the mercy of their captors.