Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Nine hostages aboard pirate ship feared drowned

MUMBAI: Nine of the hostages who were aboard the pirate mother ship, Vega 5, are feared drowned during the rescue operations carried out by the Indian Navyon March 12, some 600 nautical miles off Lakshadweep. The 13 hostages who were rescued told their Spanish employer's representatives that there were 22 crew members and around 100 pirates onboard the vessel when it caught fire during the operation carried out by the Indian Navy on March 12.

"In the FIR, the hostages have stated 22 crew members were onboard the vessel. They fear the rest may have drowned during the rescue operations by the Indian Navy," Cochin-based advocate Joy Thattil Ittoop, the legal consultant for Pescanova (a seafood firm with its head office in Spain), told TOI on Thursday.

Twenty-four crew members had sailed on Vega 5 from Mozambique, which was hijacked atMadagascar in December 2010. The pirates used the ship as the mother vessel to carry out attacks on other merchant vessels.

"The hostages told the Yellow Gate police the pirates had kept captive the vessel's captain, Juan Alfonso Rey Echeverry, and a crew member, Jose Alfonso Garcia Barreiro (both Spaniards), inSomalia, while the rest were made to sail with the pirates," Ittoop said.

Assistant commissioner of police (Yellow Gate division) H G Shinde said 61 pirates were captured while the rest escapedduring the operation carried out by the Indian Naval warships. "The fate of the nine crew members remains uncertain," Shinde said.

Meanwhile the Indian Navy found it difficult to differentiate between the pirates and the Mozambican hostages that delayed them to reach Mumbai. The Navy officials though asked the hostages to identify their crews but was not convinced whether they real hostages or pirates. "On reaching Mumbai on Wednesday I showed the 24 crewmembers photographs to the Indian Navy and the police. Finally they got convinced and identified that out of the 13 rescued fishermen 12 areMozambique and one Indonesian," Ittoop said.

Meanwhile, the rescued hostages, 12 from Mozambique and one Indonesian, will be put up at a five-star hotel in south Mumbai after formalities are complete. The firm made arrangements for them to call their families. The Mozambique consulate also conducted medical checks on the hostages and provided them with food and clothes.

After a 70-odd ordeal for the hostages in pirates' custody, finally they felt that they will have a sound sleep in a South Mumbai based five-star hotel after the Indian Navy handed them to the Yellow Gate police on Wednesday. "The sea food company had booked 15 rooms at Hotel Trident for a week so that the hostages can relax and cooperate with the police in completing the formalities before flying back," Ittoop said.

Meanwhile representatives of the Spain-based seafood company made the hostages to talk with their family members after they landed on Mumbai shore on Wednesday. "The company had instructed to put all the crew members in the 5 star hotel in Trident in Mumbai. Though a request was forwarded by Mrs Maria Fatima of High Commissioner of Muzamibque, to the commissioner of police and the Sea Port official to release the crew members temporally to take them to a hotel, already booked, the Sea Port immigration has refused the same on silly grounds, though the commissioner of police has permitted the same on an indemnity given by the High commissioner."

Shinde said the consulate had conducted medical checkups of the hostages at the police station on Thursday. "They provided them with clothes and food. They will be allowed to go to the hotel rooms only after the formalities are completed at the police station level," he said.