Ship's crew return after 40 days in captivity

Story by JUMA NAMLOLA

Publication Date: 4/13/2007

The morning chill and slight drizzle did little to dampen the spirits of relatives, friends, diplomats and government officials who had been waiting expectantly at the Mbaraki wharf to receive MV Rozen as it steamed into Mombasa after 40 days of captivity in Somalia. 

And as the blue 2,250-ton vessel was pulled in by two tug-boats, emotions were running high with tears flowing freely from the eyes of relatives of the sailors who had made their way to freedom. 

Four-year-old Binti Salim, daughter of Mr Salim Hanafi, an oiler on the Rozen, was among those who turned up to receive the men. With her was her seven-year-old sister Asha and their mother, Mrs Sophy Wachenje. 

At 9.30 am the ship docked. 

Dream come true

“This is a dream come true. We didn’t expect our dad to be back alive. I am very happy to be with him,” said Asha as she cried with joy. When Mr Hanafi was in captivity, Asha believed that she would never see her father alive again. Her heartache was made all the worse by the scary stories her friends at school kept telling her about pirates.



Mr Riziki Khamis (centre) is welcomed by his wife, Mrs Riziki Khamis, and grandson Iddi Junior in Mombasa yesterday. Photos/GIDEON MAUNDU
For Ms Nancy Obonyo, the arrival of the ship had a different meaning – it had brought home someone whose capture had almost shattered her dream of getting married. 

Ms Obonyo, 23, had dated Mr Dennis Otieno for one and a half years and was considering walking down the isle with him when news reached her that he had been taken hostage in Somalia.

“I got the news through Dennis’ sister, Vivian,” Ms Obonyo said. “The world spun around and I spent the next week weeping,” Ms Obonyo said, recalling the days immediately after the capture of the ship. “Although he hasn’t paid dowry, I consider him the pillar of my love life.” 

Now Ms Obonyo wants to go ahead with their wedding plans. She believes that God had meant them to live together after the tribulations that each endured during the days of separation. 

Almost all relatives interviewed said although they believe that Somali waters were dangerous, they could not stop the men from sailing there. 

“I would have wanted him to remain at home. But that is his profession and if he says he wants to go back, mine will be to pray for his safety,” said Mrs Saum Salim, wife of Mr Mohamed Said, a seaman. 

Apart from relatives and friends, there were officials from the Sri Lankan government, the World Food Programme and the Seamen Assistance Programme. 

The Sri Lankan High Commissioner to Kenya, Mr Mohamed Kaleel Meelaud Keeran, said he came to know of the capture of six Sri Lankan crew members and six Kenyans through the Daily Nation. 

“I read a story in the newspaper that said six among the 12 crew men aboard the captured MV Rozen were from my country. That is when I started coordinating with my country and the World Food Programme to chart the way forward,” he said. 

Throughout the 40 days, Mr Keeran was constantly in touch with relatives of the crew and Motaku Shipping Agency, which owns the ship. It was not easy for him to convince relatives back in Sri Lanka that their loved ones were alive. 

“It was a traumatising experience for the families. They had to trust me because the crew men could not be reached through the radio,” he said. 

But that was not the first time Sri Lankans had been captured in Somalia waters. In 2005, a Sri Lankan was taken hostage alongside eight Kenyans and a Tanzanian when pirates took hostage another Motaku ship, MV Semlow for 102 days. 

The hostage takers had demanded $500,000 (about Sh35 million) as ransom to release the 10 hostages. 

Except for the captain, Mr Priyanka Perera, the other five seamen were not ready to talk as they were still in shock. He said he and his men were captured by 12 pirates with two speedboats. 

“We were preparing to start work on our way to Mombasa when the speed boats approached us and ordered that we stop. All the 12 men were armed with guns and bombs,” he recalled. 

They ordered him to kneel and say his final prayers, saying they had taken control of the ship. But one pirate restrained his colleagues from shooting. 

On the third day, three other speed boats approached and started firing. 

“I kept repeating to them not to shoot because we had been taken hostage but the group - which we later learnt to be the Puntland Coast Guards - went on shooting and almost injured one of us,” said the captain. 

Carry armed officers 

WFP deputy country director Leo van der Velden and Seafarers Assistance Programme coordinator Andrew Mwangura said the Kenya Government should permit cargo ships sailing to Somalia to carry armed officers. 

Mr Velden said more than 850,000 Somalis were starving. The only way to reach them was by cargo ships. “There is no alternative. People need food aid and only these ships can do the job,” he said. 

According to him, no ships are willing to sail to Somalia and if Motaku director Karim Kudrati’s decision to re-examine Somalia trips is anything to go by, the world should be prepared to witness the death of thousands of people from hunger.

 

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