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Sailors held hostage for nearly five years 'ate rats' to survive

The men – from China, Indonesia, the Philippines, Cambodia and Taiwan – were captured by Somali pirates in 2012.

Sailors who had been held hostage by pirates for more than four years, smile as they arrive at the airport in Nairobi, Kenya.
Sailors who had been held hostage by pirates for more than four years, smile as they arrive at the airport in Nairobi, Kenya.
Image: STR AP/Press Association Images

A GROUP OF 26 hostages freed from nearly five years in the hands of Somali pirates touched down in Kenya yesterday, with both tears and smiles marking the end of their ordeal.

“I am so, so happy … For UN, for Mr John (negotiator), for all the world. Thanks to you all,” one of the hostages, Sudi Ahman, said.

The relief of the men was palpable, with some unable to hold back tears while others hugged each other and smiled broadly.

One of the survivors told BBC News they survived in part by eating rats.

John Steed, coordinator of the Hostage Support Partners (HSP) who helped negotiate their release, had gone to the Somali city of Galkayo to collect the crew of the Naham 3, who had been held hostage for longer than any other crew except one.

“We have been working on this for four-and-a-half years … It’s great to bring them home and hand them over to their embassies and their families,” Steed said.

A retired British colonel, Steed has made it his mission to rescue “forgotten hostages”: poor fishermen with no insurance who are often left languishing the longest in the hands of pirates.

The crew were taken captive when their Omani-flagged vessel was seized in March 2012 south of the Seychelles.

smile Sailors who had been held hostage by pirates for more than four years, smile as they arrive at the airport in Nairobi, Kenya. Source: STR AP/Press Association Images

Pirates initially took 29 crew hostage, but one person died during the hijacking, and two more “succumbed to illness” during their captivity, a statement from Oceans Beyond Piracy (OBP) said.

“We have achieved what we achieved today by getting elders, religious community and local leaders and regional government all involved to put pressure on these guys to release the hostages,” said Steed.

Malnourished 

The crew members are from China, Indonesia, the Philippines, Cambodia and Taiwan and they were the last remaining seafarers taken hostage at the height of Somali piracy.

Only a crew of Thai fishermen, released in February last year after nearly five years in captivity, spent longer in the hands of Somali pirates.

Steed said the crew was malnourished and one of the hostages had a bullet wound in his foot, another had suffered a stroke and another had diabetes.

At the peak of the piracy epidemic in January 2011, Somali pirates held 736 hostages and 32 boats.

According to the OBP, while overall numbers are down in the Western Indian Ocean, pirates in the region attacked at least 306 seafarers in 2015 .

While there has not been a successful attack on a commercial vessel since 2012, there have been several on fishing boats. There are still 10 Iranian hostages taken in 2015 and three Kenyan kidnap victims — one a seriously ill, paralysed woman — in the hands of pirates, Steed said.

© AFP 2016

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