NAIROBI. — A British-led team of hostage negotiators are celebrating after securing the release of three kidnapped sailors in the last and longest running hijacking in the Somali piracy crisis.
For eight years, the Hostage Support Partnership has been behind the release of dozens of “forgotten” people held for ransom by Somali pirates.
Now, after five and a half years the final hostages have returned home to their loved ones thanks to the efforts of John Steed and his colleagues.
“It was an emotional moment to see them released,” the retired British diplomat told The National.
“We made it our mission to help all the forgotten hostages at the height of the crisis eight years ago and to see the final release marks the end of an era of Somali piracy and the pain and suffering of Somalia’s forgotten hostages.
“These three are the last of the hostages, this really is the end of the Somali pirates and we have finally achieved what we set out to do.”
The three Iranian crewmen from the Siraj fishing boat returned home last week.
They had been in captivity since March 2015 when their vessel was hijacked off the Somali coast.
Mr Steed, a former military adviser to the UN in Somalia, and his team at the Hostage Support Partnership, a pro-bono humanitarian group based in Nairobi, Kenya, brokered the release, which saw a US$180 000 ransom being paid.
The retired British colonel and his colleagues have made it their mission to rescue “forgotten hostages” — poor fishermen with no insurance who are often left languishing the longest in the hands of pirates.
Ransom money is usually sourced from well wishers within the international shipping industry but in this case the funds came from private Iranian donors.
Since the height of the crisis a decade ago, thousands of crew members have been captured by Somali pirates. Naval patrols by the UN Security Council, criminal prosecutions and security measures, such as armed guards on vessels, have helped curb the gangs in recent years.
Mr Steed’s office walls were once covered in lists of those lost alongside photographs of their ships and maps of the Somali coast.
His team have tirelessly worked for free to negotiate the release of more than 60 hostages and have helped hundreds more return home.
“From the bad old days of piracy, ships taken at sea were insured and the insurance companies would pay the ransom and the ships would be released,” the 64-year-old said.
“But many are poor fishermen and the ships are not insured. The ship owners’ companies gave up on them. They would be from poor south-east Asian countries and they would get abandoned, we call them the forgotten hostages and we set about trying to help them and bring them home.” — N World.