DUBAI // Relatives of 11 seamen held hostage by Somali pirates for nearly three years have appealed to the international community to help free their loved ones.
The families from Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, India and Iran fear for the lives of the men who were captured on board their ship, the MV Albedo, in 2010. The crew were the main breadwinners, and after so many years the families are struggling to make ends meet, let alone pay a ransom.
“The pirates still want money but there is nothing in our hands to pay them,” said Fatima Farhana, the daughter of second engineer Mohammed Bishthamy.
“My father has said we need to do something fast but there is no one to help. We need our fathers, we need our men back,” said Mrs Farhana, during a telephone call from the Maldives. “There should be some end to our suffering. Our families have lost everything.”
The 24-man crew of the Malaysian-flagged MV Albedo were captured in November 2010 in the Gulf of Aden after the ship left Jebel Ali for Kenya.
One Indian sailor was shot dead by the pirates in 2011 in an effort to pressure the vessel’s Iranian owner to pay the Dh10.5 million (US$2.85m) ransom.
Eight Pakistanis, including the captain, were released in August last year when Dh4m was raised by Pakistani businessmen, families and charity groups after appeals by the men’s families.
However, the pirates refused to release the other crewmen from Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, India and Iran unless the ransom was paid in full.
In July this year, the MV Albedo sank off Somalia’s coast in rough seas. The pirates told relatives four Sri Lankan crewmen were missing and the remaining 11 were being held on land.
The families now hope to contact delegates at the two-day Dubai counter-piracy conference to remind the world about the hostages.
The eight freed Pakistani crew have told of the brutality the men were subjected to, including being denied water, food and toilet access for days. The pirates also fired their guns at random and hit their captives with pipes and rods.
“We cry when we think about him,” said Mrs Farhana, a Sri Lankan schoolteacher, who last spoke to her father in August.
“We cannot eat properly because we always remember the men have nothing. He was saying how sad they were about the four missing sailors. We tell him to be patient, but no one should face this.”
Mrs Farhana said the men’s wives and children now depend on family and friends for survival, and added that her mother had moved in with her sister after the bank repossessed their home.
“My father went on the ship to save our house. Now the bank has taken our home and there nothing in our hands,” she said.
Jawaid Khan, the captain held hostage for 21 months, has been invited to the Dubai conference with his family to speak about his ordeal.
His wife, Shahnaz Jawaid, said news of the missing men had upset him.
“It affects him and us because we know what it is like to constantly hope for any news,” said Mrs Jawaid, who had to live with threats from the pirates that the crew would be killed if the ransom was not paid.
“All of us think of the remaining crew, and we feel some guilt about them being left behind. This haunts us. It was not our fault because if we had not handed the money to the pirates they threatened to kill all the Pakistanis.”
The wife of another hostage said the international community must come together to free the hostages.
“Someone must step forward to talk for us,” she said. “Will they be forgotten because we are poor and have no money? How long will this continue?”
There are 64 sailors being held in Somalia, of whom 53 have been prisoners for more than two years, according to the International Maritime Bureau.