Pirates may settle for expenses to free ship

Somali bandits want to cover their costs and a top negotiator in Dubai says the MV Albedo and its 23 crew will be freed.

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DUBAI // A ship captured almost 17 months ago by pirates after sailing from Dubai may soon be released without ransom, a negotiator says.

The pirates have agreed to release the vessel in return for the costs they incurred during its siege, said Ahmed Chinoy, the chief negotiator and the chairman of the Citizens Police Liaison Committee in Karachi, Pakistan.

The MV Albedo was hijacked in the Gulf of Aden with 23 crew members on board in November 2010.

The ship set sail for Kenya from Jebel Ali Port with a crew of Pakistanis, Sri Lankans, Bangladeshis, Indians and one Iranian.

The pirates had demanded a ransom of US$10 million (Dh36.7m) for its release but the Malaysian owner was unable to arrange the money.

Mr Chinoy, also chairman of the Citizens Police Liaison Committee in Karachi, Pakistan, was in Dubai yesterday to finalise the agreement.

"We have put pressure on the pirates to release the ship using different channels and it worked well. It's a positive development," he said.

"We are in the final stages of negotiations on how much money should be paid to the pirates for the expenses they incurred feeding the crew members and for the maintenance of the ship."

Mr Chinoy said negotiators were in touch with various groups including Somali tribal leaders, Somali businessmen based in Dubai and "other influential people" to resolve the matter.

"I was talking to them every day, explaining the situation," he said. "Somali tribal leaders have played an important role in this issue. They directed the pirates to release the ship without the ransom amount. We are hoping it will be released in the coming days."

The governor of Sindh province, of which Karachi is the capital, also assisted in negotiations, Mr Chinoy said.

Andrew Mwangura, the coordinator for the Seafarers' Assistance Programme in Kenya, confirmed talks were in the final stages.

"I haven't heard about the status of the ship for the past week. It's been really quiet," Mr Mwangura said. "But the negotiations are definitely on to release the ship."

Family of the crew members have been pleading for their release for more than a month and launched a website to promote their cause, savemvalbedo.com.

"It's been a really traumatising experience for us. It's been really bad," said Nareman Jawaid, 28, a Pakistani who lives in Dubai. Her father Jawaid Khan, 63, is the ship's captain.

Ms Jawaid said her mother, who lived alone in Karachi, sometimes spoke to her father when the pirates put him on the phone and forced him to tell her about the situation.

"We only know that the crew members are alive and are living in bad conditions. We don't have any other information apart from this," she said.

"My mother has really struggled with this. She has been trying to get in touch with various people to help get the ship released. It's been a difficult time for us."

Had the shipping company been able to pay the ransom the matter would have been resolved long ago, Ms Jawaid said.

"Unfortunately, it's a small shipping company and the owner cannot afford to pay the ransom," she said.

The MV Albedo is not the only Dubai-registered ship being held by pirates.

The MT Royal Grace, a chemical tanker, was captured off the coast of Oman this month after setting sail from Sharjah, and the MV Iceberg 1 is still being held after nearly two years.

"It is a disgrace that everyone is just watching this kind of atrocity go by and not doing anything to stop it," said Ms Jawaid. "God put mercy in the hearts of these pirates."

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