Hope and anguish over hijacked MV Iceberg crew's fate

Families are unable to get confirmation that the vessel's men are free.

Among the family members of the MV Iceberg I's crew waiting for news of their fate is Jaswinder Singh's wife Nirmal Singh, holding their son Abhimanyu, and his brother Rigan Singh.
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DUBAI // Conflicting reports about the fate of a ship hijacked by Somali pirates 19 months ago have left families of the kidnapped crew confused and desperate for details.

Relatives are seeking confirmation that the two dozen sailors held hostage aboard the MV Iceberg I have been freed.

The Dubai-owned ship has been in captivity for longer than any other vessel currently held by Somali pirates, and one of the crew members died on board last year.

Ansar Burney, a human-rights activist involved in the negotiations for the ship's release, has said a ransom had been paid and the ship would soon head to Salalah in Oman or to Dubai, but aerial photos show it is still in Somalia.

"We are trying hard to find out if they have really been released by the pirates," said Sunita Tiwari, whose brother Dheeraj is one of the Iceberg I's crew.

"We have tried ringing the shipping authority in India to know the status, but they tell us that unless the ship makes it to safe waters, they cannot know for sure."

The family is also trying to contact the vessel's owner, Azal Shipping.

Rina Yadav, the wife of another crew member, said the lack of information made her feel desperate.

"I don't understand what is happening," said Mrs Yadav, whose husband, Fantoush, joined the ship two weeks after their wedding. "No one is giving us the right information and I am confused."

Another family said they had been told by Mr Burney that the Iceberg I had been released on Saturday.

"We were informed the ship is free," said Mangesh Mohite, whose brother Ganesh is among the Iceberg I's crew. "But the [Indian] shipping authority said everyone except the Indian crew had been freed."

Mr Burney told The National yesterday that the crew were released at the weekend after a ransom was paid. He did not say how much. The pirates had demanded US$8 million (Dh29.3m).

The crew's release was secured after intense negotiations, Mr Burney said. "The ship has lost its anchor in Puntland and it is being repaired. They will reach Salalah or Dubai port in the next two or three days."

Azal Shipping declined to comment, as did the Indian consulate in Dubai and the Directorate General of Shipping in Mumbai, which is part of India's ministry of shipping.

The counter-piracy EU Naval Force said yesterday that it did not track hijacking negotiations, but its latest aerial images showed the MV Iceberg I still in Somali waters.

* With additional reporting by Carol Huang