KARACHI: After nearly two years, seven Pakistani crew members of merchant ship MV Albedo were reunited with their loved ones in an emotional homecoming in Karachi on Thursday.
The men, part of the 22 crew onboard the Malaysian-flagged vessel, had been held hostage by Somali pirates since November 26, 2010 and were released on Wednesday after a ransom of $1.1 million was paid by Pakistani families and donors. The rest of the crew – seven Bengalis, six Sri Lankans, an Iranian and an Indian – is still held aboard the ship, currently 50 kilometres off Somalia.
The released Pakistan crew members are Captain Jawaid Saleem, Chief Officer Mujtaba, Third officer Raheel Anwar, Fourth Engineer Zulfiqar Ali, and sailors Kashif Naveed, Faqeer Mohammad Soomro, and Ahsan Islam.
While Saleem, Soomro and Ali belong to Karachi, the rest of them belong to other parts of the country. Naveed is from Jhelum, Islam from Dir, Anwar from Faisalabad and Mujtaba from Mansehra.
Families gathered at the Governor House, which was adorned in hues of green and white, where a grand ceremony was held to receive the crew amidst cheers and sighs of relief.
Before the arrival of the crew, families waited in anticipation and expressed their delight, as Captain Jawaid Saleem’s daughter Mishal put it: “Today is our Eid.”
Chief Officer of MV Albedo Mujtaba’s daughter, Salwa, ran around excitedly saying: “I won’t let papa go on the ship again.”
The families also spoke of their agony over the past two years. “The most horrible moment for me was when the pirates lied to me that they had killed my husband,” said Shenaz, Captain Jawaid’s wife.
Also at the occasion was Captain Wasi, the captain of MV Suez, which was also captured by the Somali pirates and released last June. Talking to The Express Tribune, he said he continued to suffer from trauma of being held by the abusive pirates.
Amidst a live marching band, the crew finally walked into the governor house. They were flanked by the Sindh chief minister, governor, Sharmila Farooqi, MQM leaders Raza Haroon and Babar Ghauri.
Patriotic songs played in the background, as the crew members and families embraced each other.
The frail-looking Captain Jawaid Saleem said: “I am very happy to be back in my home country. This is the first time in the history of piracy that Pakistan emerged as the only country which safely had its hostages released safe and sound.”
“‘I can raise my head proudly because of my country. My only mission is to serve my country,” he further said, adding that other hostages wanted Pakistan to help them. He went on to thank the president and the Sindh governor.
Describing his experience, he said they kept him and two other Pakistani hostages in a jungle for three months. “We slept on rocks, and there was no shelter; only flour, and macaroni to eat. But we used to serve the pirates first.”
Chief Officer Mujtaba, who met his son Abdullah for the first time since he was born just a few days after the vessel was captured said, “I can’t describe how happy I am to see my son.”
Sindh Governor Dr Ishratul Ebad said that initially, the pirates had demanded $10 million. “There were tense negotiations. All countries were reached out to, but got no response except from Pakistan.”
Sindh Chief Minister Qaim Ali Shah said that the released crew has received a new lease of life, and congratulated President Asif Ali Zardari as well as MQM chief Altaf Hussain.
Details remain murky
Meanwhile, officials remained reluctant to share details of the exact amount paid as ransom to the Somali pirates.
The pirates had demanded Rs320 million for the release of the hostages in April.
While Pakistan agreed to pay Rs160 million, the rest was to be paid by the Malaysian owner of the ship and later by the Malaysian government.
However, retracting from his earlier statement, CPCL Chief Ahmed Chinoy denied that Rs160 million was paid by Pakistan.
Speaking to The Express Tribune from Dubai before the crew left for Karachi, he said that $1.1 million (Rs103 million) was paid as ‘expenditure money’ – the money the pirates had spent on the hostages’ food, medication and moving them back and forth from land to sea.
He added that Thursday was a historic day. “It was a long and difficult journey. The families contacted us a year ago.”
Published in The Express Tribune, August 3rd, 2012.