KARACHI: Pakistan on Thursday gave an emotional welcome to a group of Egyptian and South Asian crew held hostage for 10 months by Somali pirates who released them after payment of $2.1 million ransom.
Pakistan helped Egypt to secure the release of the Egyptian-registered boat Suez, which docked in Oman last week after the ordeal which began in August 2010.
“Our navy ship PNS Zulfiqar has reached Karachi port along with the 22 crew members of the Egyptian boat,” said Pakistan navy spokesman Mohammad Kamran.
“We are welcoming them warmly and will keep the foreigners as our guests,” he said. The hostages received a heroes' welcome in Karachi, Pakistan's biggest city, amid tears and joy, with relatives of the four Pakistanis welcoming them home after their ordeal. The other crew include 11 Egyptians, six Indians and a Sri Lankan.
“We had lost all hope. It is certainly a second life for us,” Egyptian sailor Kamal Ahmed Kamal, 45, told reporters in the southern port city.
“We spent the last 10 months in a hell. The pirates trapped us in Somalia in August last year and since then they would keep us like animals,” said Syed Alam a Pakistani officer on the boat.
“They would keep us chained on the boat, give us rubbish food and beat us every now and then,” he added.
Ravindra Singh, from the Indian state of Haryana, was thrilled to be free after the long ordeal.
“I can't believe I am out of Somalia. I don't believe I am going to join my loving wife, who for all those months ran pillar to post to get me freed,” he said.
Laila Wasi, 11, daughter of the Pakistani captain Wasi Hasan, burst into tears when she met her father.
“I am proud to be the daughter of a brave man. He showed immense courage to live in the difficult circumstances and in the end he made it possible to remain alive and also ensure his crew's safety,” she told reporters.
Pakistani officials said they paid $2.1 million to secure the release of the hostages.
“We utilised all means including our armed forces to ensure that all the victims, our Indian, Egyptian and Sri Lankan brothers, reach home safely,” Ishratul Ibad Khan, governor of Sindh province, of which Karachi is the capital, told reporters.
“We required some money to accomplish our goal to free the victims, for which our business community and people help us overwhelmingly,” he added.
“We have handed the foreign crew members to the diplomatic missions of their respective countries,” Khan said.
Piracy has surged in recent years off Somalia, a lawless, war-torn country that sits alongside one of the world's most important shipping routes.