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Deadline nears, sailors’ families cry for help

New Delhi: Families of six Indians onboard the MV Suez taken hostage by Somali pirates get desperate as the reported one-week deadline to secure their release draws closer.

The Government however said it is making all efforts. Shipping Minister GK Vasan told CNN-IBN they will take up the issue with the Egyptian shipping company MV Suez in Cairo through the embassy there.

Shampa Guleria’s husband and Mulk Raj Sharma’s brother are amongst the six sailors on board the MV Suez, the ship taken hostage by Somalian pirates seven months ago. After days of waiting, and with the deadline drawing nearer, they were able to meet with External Affairs Minister SM Krishna.

“For the past one week all onboard have been tortured, the owner is not ready to pay the ransom. The Indian Government can put pressure on Egyptian government. to force the owner of the ship to pay ransom, so that the ship can be released. The pirates have stopped the crew’s food and water from past four to five days,” said Mulk Raj Sharma, brother of captive sailor NK Sharma.

Assurances demanded but there was little hope, even as pirates set a one week deadline and a ransom demand of $2.5 million for their loved one’s release.

“We cannot collect that much amount and go to them. And even if we collect, who will let us go to those pirates?” said Shampa Guleria, wife of a captive sailor.

But the Indian Government appears equally helpless. They don’t seem to have made much headway with the Egyptian owner of the MV Suez.

“Have spoken to Shipping Minister to help. I have also asked ambassador Swaminathan in Cairo and Consul General in Dubai to work with respective governments and ship owners to get sailors released. But we need to be cautious and patient and persevere. It is not for the MEA to negotiate, it is for the owner of the ships,” said Minister of External Affairs SM Krishna.

Legal experts say pirates get legitimacy when governments negotiate with them and the size of the ransom also goes up. Therefore it is left to the shipowner to talk to the pirates, but there are problems here too.

“Many of the ships are owned under flags of convenience. The owned and registered in Panama, Liberia…countries like that. How can Indian Government act up on the behalf of a government of flag of convenience?” said maritime lawyer Sanjay Hegde.

The experts say mounting a full fledged naval rescue operation is not only risky but will probably cost more than the ransom to be paid. Lost in all this cost benefit analysis is the human price being paid.

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