Sailors’ rescue in India’s hands, say hijacked ship’s owners


New Delhi : With Somalian pirates insisting on the release of their colleagues in Indian custody in return for eight Indian sailors held by them on board tanker Asphalt Venture, the owners of the hijacked ship said it was now up to the government to take the “leadership” to resolve the issue.

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“The owners are in an impossible situation and one where only the government of India can take leadership,” said a statement issued by the owners and managers of Asphalt Venture Friday.

The pirates, who were holding the crew of bitumen tanker Asphalt Venture hostage since September last year, released eight of the 15 Indian crew last month after being paid an undisclosed ransom by the ship owners.

But they refused to free seven others reportedly seeking to use them as a lever to secure release of over 120 of their comrades held in prisons in India after they were captured by the navy in the Indian Ocean in the last six months.

“The pirates have made it clear that they are only interested in dealing with someone who can negotiate a prisoner transfer. The pirates holding the hostages have said categorically that they are not interested in further ransom payment but only in a prisoner swap,” said the statement.

The owners have put their hands up, stating that they could not talk terms about an issue which was out of their purview.

“Owners state that they are in no position to negotiate what is now fundamentally a political situation, as the pirates will not deal with them and they have no mandate to discuss swapping those held in Indian jails with anyone.”

The owners said that they are working closely with the Indian government, “but are looking for leadership from the government to resolve this grave issue”.

They also raised their concern about the families of the captured sailors. “The families are naturally distraught over the situation and are looking for solutions and for government and international intervention to bring their loved ones home,” said the statement.

The Indian government had earlier made it clear that it will not be negotiating with the pirates, which should be handled by the owners. India had earlier tried to put pressure on the owners to pursue negotiations “sincerely”, by raising the matter with their host country.

According to available figures, 53 Indian sailors are being held hostage on five different ships.

Of them, 17 have been held for the longest on MT Savina Caylyn, an Italian ship which was captured Feb 8, 2010.