Thiruvananthapuram: The families of seven Indian sailors, on board 'MV Asphalt Venture' that was hijacked by Somali pirates in 2010, are wondering why the Indian government is taking so long to secure the release of the sailors. Some of them are to accompany Kerala Chief Minister Oommen Chandy when he goes to New Delhi on Tuesday to discuss the issue with the central government. The Panama-flagged vessel 'MV Asphalt Venture', owned by a joint venture of a British and Middle-East company, got hijacked by pirates near Tanzania while on way to Durban from Mombasa, Kenya on Sep 28, 2010.
Since then the misery for the sailors and their families has been enormous. Last April, the pirates released eight other sailors, but continued to keep the Indian sailors hostage. Of the seven sailors, two are from Kerala and their families are pinning their hope on Chief Minister Oommen Chandy to pressurise the central government for the sailors release.
Speaking to IANS, Chandy said he has met Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and several cabinet ministers in the matter. "On Tuesday I am in Delhi and the families of these victims will also be there. We will again make one more attempt to see that some action is done. The sufferings of these people has gone beyond limits," said Chandy.
Mercy George, a school teacher and wife of 49-year-old George Joseph, first engineer on board the ship, told IANS that she is mentally and physically drained. "On Jan 1 my husband called me from where he is kidnapped and we spoke for some time. Since then there has been no contact. I have been to Delhi two times and now tomorrow (Monday) again I am going. We are expecting the family members of the others also who are in captivity to come and plead our case," said Mercy.
However, Shobha Krishnan, wife of 59-year-old B.N. Unnikrishnan, the second officer of the ill-fated ship said she finds no hope in travelling to Delhi. "I once met the prime minister and still nothing has happened. My husband was an Indian Navy official who retired from service in 1987. After serving in the Merchant Navy soon after his retirement, he met with an accident and for 15 years he was unable to go for work. In 2010 April he re-joined the merchant navy and joined this company. We are all down and out because if he had not re-joined, we would not have undergone this ordeal," remarked Shobha.
Incidentally, the families of the kidnapped sailors had to approach a court in Mumbai last year when the salaries stopped coming. "It was through a court decision that we got four months' salary dues last month. I have filed a habeas corpus petition in the Kerala High Court last week and it has been accepted. The government has been given two weeks' time to file its statement," added Shobha.
Chandy said that around 100 Somalian nationals are in custody in various jails in the country and the pirates want their release. "A few cases are currently going on in a various courts in the country. We are meeting the external affairs minister to see that the cases are speeded up. We will do our best to get our men released," said Chandy.
"See the way the Italian government is pursuing the case of two of their marines right now in jail here. They are so determined... and look at us, we are waiting for several months. The least the Indian government can do is to make a speedy trial of the cases against the arrested Somalians here. Let the law of the land here take its course, but please speed it up. After all they also have been in jail here for more than a year," lamented Mercy.