DUBAI // A group of sailors have described their dramatic midnight escape after four years held hostage and tortured by a gang of Somali pirates.
Barefoot, starving and terrified, the 11 men ran through the darkness for more than 10 kilometres, ducking behind low bushes to avoid recapture before they eventually reached safety.
On Saturday night the men had broken a window in the cramped room in which they were being held, and fled. It was their last slim shot at freedom, as their captors had theatened to start torturing them again on Tuesday.
“It was a do or die situation because they knew if they got caught … they would be shot,” said Fathima Farhana, daughter of one of the crew, Mohammed Bisthamy.
“My father is very weak and didn’t have energy but they ran until they were safe. They didn’t have slippers or proper clothes when they jumped through the window. They knew it was their last chance because the pirates had told them they would start to torture them again on June 10.
“The men could not bear more pain so had to escape somehow. We thank Allah for their release; he gave them strength to survive.”
Mr Bisthamy, 60, described being beaten with wooden and metal rods. “There was torture all the time, there was too much torture. We were always worried. But now we feel good and safe.”
The 11 men were among the crew of the MV Albedo, the Malaysian-flagged cargo ship hijacked on November 26, 2010, after leaving Jebel Ali port in Dubai.
The 23 crew comprised seven Pakistanis, seven Bangladeshis, six Sri Lankans, two Indians and an Iranian.
The Pakistani crew were freed two years ago after their families raised part of a US$2.85 million (Dh4m) ransom demanded by the pirates. One Indian sailor was shot by pirates early in the hijacking.
The gang held the 11 remaining crew on shore after the vessel sank in July last year and four Sri Lankans were reported missing.
The men’s escape at the weekend was assisted by a split in the pirates’ ranks. One group wanted to continue torturing the men in the hope of a substantial payment from their families. Another group secretly accepted a smaller ransom payment organised by a charity group, the Maritime Piracy Humanitarian Response Programme, and helped with the escape.
Peter Swift, the charity’s chairman, said the final settlement was small and had been raised from donor contributions to a fund to release the men.
“We stressed to the pirates that the families have no money, the owner has effectively disappeared and abandoned the ship, which was not insured.
“It’s not easy to persuade people who want a lot of money that there aren’t millions, so it took a lot of patience.”
The 11 men fled to the protection of a convoy in Galmudug, a semi-autonomous region in central Somalia, and were flown to Kenya by officials from the hostage relief programme of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.
Their freedom also ended the ordeal of a Pakistan family in Dubai.
“When my dad and others were released, it felt incomplete because our goal was always to get the entire crew out,” said Nareman Jawaid, a Dubai resident and daughter of Jawaid Khan, the ship’s Pakistani captain who was released in August 2012. The pirates had refused to free the entire crew with the money raised by the Pakistani families.
“This is such huge relief that they will be back with their families. Still, it is a tragedy for the families of the four who may have drowned and one Indian sailor shot.”