The 26 Asian sailors captured by Somali pirates were released Saturday, after spending more than four years in captivity.
The seemingly malnourished sailors from various Asian countries, including China, the Philippines, Cambodia, Indonesia, Taiwan, and Vietnam, were captured back in March 2012 in the Indian Ocean near Seychelles.
All 26 hostages arrived in Kenya on Sunday on a United Nations (UN) humanitarian flight, where they were handed over to their respective embassies.
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“It is great to be here today and to bring them home and to hand them over to their embassies and their families,” John Steed, the East Africa region manager for the Oceans Beyond Piracy Group, told Reuters.
Steed confirmed that their release was a result of protracted negotiations with their captors, adding that the negotiation process involved local religious and tribal leaders.
“We have achieved what we have achieved by getting tribal elders, religious leaders, the community, and regional government all involved to put pressure on these guys to release these hostages,” Steed said.
One of the sailors died in a shoot-out with the pirates during their capture while two died in captivity, according to Steed, a retired British army colonel.
The hostages were held in Dabagala village near Harardheere town, which is 400 kilometers northeast of Somalia’s capital Mogadishu.
The area is notorious for ocean piracy and is commonly known as the main pirate base. It is also one of the areas controlled by the Somali-based Islamic terror group al–Shabab.
The mission to extract the 26 hostages from Dabagala sustained numerous obstacles, including the ongoing fighting between the rival forces of Puntland and Galmudug cities.
Although he declined to give specific details about the negotiations, which took 18 months, Steed said it was a challenging experience for the captives.
“They have spent over four and a half years in deplorable conditions away from their families,” Steed said.
For more than a decade, Somali pirates have been terrorizing sailors along the Somali coast, with the first major commercial vessel being captured in 2005.
Over the years, the piracy network has grown to become a major threat to international shipping in the Indian Ocean, prompting the intervention of the United Nations, European Union, and North Atlantic Treaty Organization or NATO.
By the year 2012, Somali piracy had cost the global economy close to $6.1 billion, according to the Guardian.
Most commercial companies now hire private armed security personnel to escort their vessels.