Security of Indians held by pirates top priority

New Delhi: With 53 Indian sailors still held captive by Somali pirates, India on Sunday said the safety and security of Indians remains the priority of government and efforts were on to seek their safe release.

Noting that there were five ships now held by pirates with Indian crew members on board, the Ministry of External Affairs said in all these cases "our Missions and Posts concerned have been in regular touch with the ship owners and with the governments of countries, where these ship owners are based, to secure the release of our nationals."

Director General, Shipping, has continued his efforts to expedite steps by the owners of the ships to secure the release of our sailors from the pirates, it said.

"Our Ambassador in Cairo and Consul General in Dubai are also working energetically with their counterparts from other countries whose crew members have been held by the pirates in order to intensify efforts to secure the release of crew held in these ships, expeditiously," the Spokesperson said.

With the release of the RAK Afrikana, held by Somali pirates with 11 Indian sailors among its crew, the number of Indian sailors held by Somali pirates is now 53 who were captured during the hijacking of five ships– MV Iceberg, MV Suez, MT Asphalt Venture, MV Sinin (all Panamian ships) and MT Savina Caylyn (an Italian ship).

Following recent incidents of pirate attacks closer to India`s western shores, the Indian Navy has increased its vigil and neutralized two pirate "mother ships" and captured 43 pirates, the ministry said.

The Directorate General of Shipping has issued numerous advisories, circulars and notices on the recommended traffic corridors, protocol with Indian naval ships, precautions to be taken and areas to be avoided.

It is also necessary for flag States to be accountable and persuade the ships owners to expedite conclusion of negotiations with pirates so that seafarers are released quickly, the ministry said.

Noting that the nodal agencies/Ministries dealing with the piracy off the coast of Somalia are Shipping (DG Shipping] and Defence (Indian Navy and Coast Guard), it said the main point of contact with the ship owners is DG who remains in constant touch with the owners/management of the ship in order to secure the release of Indian crew members.

The MEA comes into the picture where the ship owners/management is based in a foreign country and has assisted by taking up the matter with local governments to expedite negotiations between the owners/management of the ship and the pirates.

As a result of such efforts, 21 Indian nationals held on merchant ships were released in 2008, 34 in 2009, 56 in 2010 and 13 in 2011, bringing the total number of sailors who have been released to 124.

In most cases, ships on which Indian crew members are held in captivity have crew members of other nationalities also.