Ship owners break the ice with pirates, hostages freed

Oct 26, 2011, 01:37 IST | Bipin Kumar Singh

It's indeed a happy Diwali for the kin of the 6 Indians aboard MV Iceberg 1, who will be returning home 19 months after Somali pirates hijacked the vessel in the Gulf of Aden

For the families of the six Indians aboard the Panama-flagged MV Iceberg 1, which was hijacked by Somali pirates 19 months ago, this Diwali will actually be a celebration of a dear one's homecoming.

No smooth sailing: A source says that an undisclosed amount was
paid to the pirates as ransom to release the Panama-flagged MV Iceberg 1.

According to sources, an undisclosed amount was paid to the pirates as ransom to release the bulk carrier along with the captives last Friday. The liberated crewmembers are on their way back home.

It was reported earlier that the pirates had demanded $8 million as ransom, which the ship owners, Dubai's Azal shipping company, said they couldn't pay, bringing things to a head. However, the thaw came with a settlement on Thursday. 

"We have information from our sources that MV Iceberg 1 has been released by Somali pirates and is expected to touch a port near Oman or Yemen by 10 pm on Tuesday. We are trying to establish contact with the Indian captives so that we can convey the news to their families," said a highly placed source at Directorate General of Shipping (DGS), on condition of anonymity.

Sources close to Azal shipping also confirmed that the ship was released on Friday, after the company closed
its final negotiations on Thursday.

After the release, hostages were shifted to a different ship as the out-of-use Iceberg became defunct.

"The ship has been non-operational for the last 19 months, and most of its parts are not functioning. That is why the captives were shifted to another vessel," said the source, adding, "After the freed crew reach Dubai, they will be airlifted to their respective destinations."

'Not till we see 'em'
Meanwhile, the families of the six Indians have greeted the news with incredulous, yet cautious, joy. They said they do not want to get carried away until their loved ones actually cross the threshold of their homes.
"I hope this Diwali will bring back our happiness. After getting the information about the release of MV Iceberg 1, we contacted the DG Shipping office which confirmed the development but would not comment until the ship reaches Salalah port of Oman," said Purushottam Tiwari, father of Dheeraj, who is the chief officer in command of the ship.

Mansingh Mohite, father of another captive, Ganesh (24), said, "Who will not be happy on getting such a news, but the real happiness will come only when I see my child with my eyes."

MiD DAY has done a series of articles on the hijacked vessel, the most recent of which was on October 9 ('Families at sea over hijacked Indians').

Director General of Shipping, S B Agnihotri, said, "I don't want to comment on the matter right now." Officials at Azal Shipping Company in Dubai were also unforthcoming with details.

The capture
MV Iceberg 1, a vessel owned by Dubai's Azal Shipping Company, was hijacked on March 29, 2010, near Gulf of Aden while it was heading towards Jebel Ali Port. The pirates had reportedly demanded $8 million to release the vessel.

Some 24 crewmembers from countries like Yemen, India, Ghana, Sudan, Pakistan, and the Philippines were aboard the vessel. On October 27, 2010, desperation took its toll on one of the crewmembers, Wagdi Akram, who committed suicide by jumping overboard.

They're coming home
Indian sailors on board MV Iceberg 1 are:
Dheeraj Tiwari from Nashik,
Swapnil Jadhav from Satara,
Ganesh Mohite from Mumbai,
Saji Kumar Purshottam from Kerala,
Santosh Kumar Yadav from Uttar Pradesh, and
Jaswinder Singh from Haryana

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