Six MV Orna crew still held by pirates

Rest being detained by rival pirate groups who are fighting over ransom demands, says the ship owner's technical adviser in the UAE.

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DUBAI //Only 13 of the 19 crew held aboard the Panama-flagged MV Orna since December 2010 are on their way home after negotiators secured the ship's release on Saturday.

Five Syrian men and one Sri Lankan remain as hostages of two rival Somali pirate groups who have had a falling out over ransom demands, according to the ship owner's legal adviser in Ajman.

"We had negotiated for the release of 18 Syrians, one Sri Lankan and the vessel," said Abdul Kadar, technical adviser to Sirago Ship Management, which handles operations for Kasaab Intershipping, a company registered in the Marshall Islands.

"But three days ago we received a call from one pirate group. He said, 'we don't agree with the others and we have fought so don't bring your tug to take the ship' ."

The MV Orna and most of her crew were freed after an undisclosed ransom was paid on Friday.

Mr Kadar said the amount was higher than media reports of US$600,000 (Dh2.2 million) but he declined to disclose the actual figure because it would affect talks.

Two groups, described by Mr Kadar as "piracy investors", held back three sailors each.

Experts say such investors pay for the provision of food and security for hostages during negotiations in return for a cut of the ransom.

"We received a call from another group who said, 'yes we are fighting but we are ready to give you your ship and these 13 sailors'," Mr Kadar said.

"Sometimes you have to take a decision to take whatever you have, so I took the 13 crew and the ship. This is a problem between the pirates and the investors."

Negotiations will continue for the release of the other men.

"I received a call from a mediator who speaks on behalf of both the investors and now we are waiting for them to give us a number," Mr Kadar said.

The vessel was on its way to India from Durban with more than 26,000 tonnes of coal when it was hijacked in December 2010, about 400 nautical miles north off the Seychelles.

After a fire aboard the MV Orna six months ago, the ship cannot sail on her own power and is being towed by a tug boat to an undisclosed location.  The freed men are safe, according to doctors who examined them aboard the tug.

Mr Kadar denied reports that a sailor had been killed by pirates last year.

"It was a rumour but no one has been killed," he said. He added that the freed crew and the pirates had confirmed that all 19 crew members were still alive.

But the pirates did shoot a messman in the foot when he tried to drink water without permission, Mr Kadar said. The sailor is one of the six men being held by the pirates. No details were available about his condition.

Piracy experts say hijackers often clashed over negotiations.

"Pirates treat the crew and the ship as commodities and they have a very businesslike attitude about ransoms and hostages," said Jon Lee, an analyst for Compass Risk Management company, which has been involved in negotiations to free ships and crew.

"In this case, the commodity has been split between different gangs. Each group will be looking at how much the other got. The first group does not want any other group to get more than they did and the amount they obtained will govern and influence how much the rest ask for."

According to the International Maritime Bureau's September records, Somali pirates hold 188 hostages and 11 vessels.

* This article has been corrected since it was published. A previous version of this article stated that the MV Orna was UAE-flagged, when it is in fact Panama-flagged. Also, Abdul Kadar was described as a legal adviser to Sirago Ship Management. He is a technical adviser to the company.