Khartoum – The Saudi owner of an Algerian cargo ship has admitted to paying a $2.6 million ransom to Somali pirates.
The crew were held hostage for 10 months and were released in November 2011 after ship owner Ghaith Rashad Feraoun made the payment.
The MV Blida, carrying 17 Algerians, six Ukrainians, two Filipinos, one Jordanian and one Indonesian, was captured by a gang of heavily armed pirates on January 1, 2011, on its way from Oman to Tanzania.
Two of hostages were released for health reasons in October that year, with the rest freed the following month when a bag full of cash was parachuted from a plane.
“The pirates demanded a ransom of $2.6 million to free the sailors and the ship. The Algerian government refused to negotiate or pay a ransom,” said Feraoun.
“I thought of the sailors. I had no interest in freeing the bulk carrier and cement on board, as it was 100% insured and the insurance companies were going to reimburse me,” he said.
“I negotiated through a man called Abu Ali or Abu Ahmed. After agreeing with the pirates on the amount, I paid a one off payment in cash. ”
Feraoun said he withdrew the money from Lebanon, because it was the only country where you could retrieve that amount without encountering obstacles.
“We took a small plane and threw the money onto the ship,” he said, adding that “Algeria didn’t pay a single dinar [Algerian currency].”
Algeria has a policy of not negotiating with hostage-takers and has asked the UN General Assembly to criminalise ransom payments to pirates.
When the MV Blida’s crew were released, the foreign ministry confirmed that Algiers had not provided any money to free them.
After the ordeal, some crew members claimed suffering “psychological torture,” enduring death threats and being deprived of food and clean drinking water as they watched their Somali captors getting drunk.
-Additional reporting Sapa