Somali pirates on Monday released four Pakistanis and 18 others they were holding hostage following negotiations lasting months.
The 22 captives have been released after the pirates were paid $2.1 million in ransom, which was collected in collaboration by the Ansar Burney Welfare Trust (ABWT), the Sindh government and the shipping company that owned the hijacked ship.
“Ransom money was dropped from an aeroplane at Punt Land in Somalia, which the pirates’ sources had specified.
The pirates started freeing hostages at 5pm GMT (10pm PST),” ABWT chairperson Ansar Burney said.
According to reports, the operation was monitored from the Suez Canal and a chartered plane was sent to Somalia to bring the released hostages back.
Apart from four Pakistanis, captives include six Indians, one Sri Lankan and 11 Egyptians. “As soon as all hostages are released, they will be shifted to the port so that they can be taken to the nearest airport for their return to their home countries,” Burney said.
During the mission, Burney travelled twice to Somalia, four times to Egypt and once each to India, Yemen and Sri Lanka.
Meanwhile, a brief ceremony was held at the Governor House in Karachi where families of the released hostages were also present.
“The ordeal had become a national issue for Pakistan. I congratulate the nation on this occasion,” said Sindh Governor Ishratul Ibad Khan.
In his address, Muttahida Qaumi Movement chief Altaf Hussain thanked all philanthropists who helped raise the ransom amount. He also thanked President Zardari and ISI Chief Ahmed Shuja Pasha for the special services they rendered for the mission.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 14th, 2011.