Hijacked crew expected in Jebel Ali early next month

The MV Albedo may sail back into Jebel Ali within 15 to 20 days, according to a negotiator between the ship's pirates and family members of the hostages.

DUBAI // Jebel Ali will probably be the first port of call for the 22 sailors aboard the hijacked cargo ship MV Albedo.

The announcement came today from a negotiator and family members of the crew, a day after US$2.85million (Dh10.4m) was collected for the hostages' release.

The men could reach Dubai by early next month, said Ahmed Chinoy, the chairman of the Citizens-Police Liaison Committee in Karachi, which represented the relatives in negotiations with the pirates.

"We estimate they will be with us in 15-20 days," he said. "They will most probably come to Jebel Ali because it has a dry dock.

"Repair will be needed in the shipyard since the ship is in a very bad condition and will need to be made seaworthy by the owner."

After being allowed to speak to all the hostages late on Tuesday, Mr Chinoy said it was clear they all needed medical care.

"Their spirits are high but they have lost weight with no proper nutrition, water and medication. Now it's a matter of surviving those conditions for some more time before their ordeal is over."

The funds were raised in time for the Tuesday deadline set by the pirates. About half the Dh10.4m was raised in a massive fund-raising drive in Pakistan where groups of businessmen, donors and relatives of the crew contributed.

Omid Khosrojerdi, the Malaysian-based ship owner, had agreed to raise at least half of the funds. The pirates had twice extended the original April 26 deadline after the relatives' campaign initially had a shortfall of 150m Pakistani rupees (Dh6m).

The cargo ship was hijacked in November 2010 in the Gulf of Aden after it left Jebel Ali for Kenya. It has a crew of seven Pakistanis, seven Bangladeshis, six Sri Lankans, one Indian and one Iranian. One Indian sailor died due to lack of medicine.

The 18-month siege has taken its toll on relatives like Shahnaz Jawaid, wife of the ship's captain Jawaid Khan, who often received threatening telephone calls from the pirates.

Mrs Jawaid, whose daughter works in Dubai, and other relatives explained to the pirates over the phone on Tuesday that the money from Pakistan and Malaysia would be pooled together and then handed over.

"I needed to stay calm and explain we needed time," Mrs Jawaid said.

"I have become a nervous wreck because of the phone calls, it's been very hard and I have panic attacks," Mrs Jawaid said. "Still, we are all very happy that we are almost at the end, but we hope everything goes off well."

In the Maldives, Fatima Farhana, a schoolteacher and daughter of the ship's second engineer Mohammed Bisthamy, read the news about the successful fundraising online.

"There were so many Google alerts about it and I immediately called my mother in Sri Lanka," she said. "My mother can't believe it. She has been very ill after the hijacking. It's been so difficult for us to eat or sleep not knowing how he is living."

rtalwar@thenational.ae

Published: May 16, 2012 04:00 AM

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