Center for Peace and Democracy (CPD)

Monday, October 24, 2005

Emotional welcome for Hostages

Two ships and their 20-crew members finally docked at the Mombasa port yesterday to an emotional welcome by family and friends.

The ships sailed into the African Marine and Engineering dockyard at 1.00pm escorted by Kenya Ports Authority (KPA) tugboats.

First to dock was the MV Semlow, which was hijacked by Somali warlords at gunpoint on June 25 between Haradheere and El Maan port.

Aboard the vessel were eight Kenyans, a Tanzanian and the ship’s Sri Lankan captain. Then came in MV Miltzow, which was hijacked by gunmen on October 1, with nine Kenyans and a Ugandan on board. Among the 17 Kenyans released were Hassan Sudi, Nzioka Mulinge, Patrick Ogutu, Athman Mangore, Juma Rajab, Juma Pembe, Rashid Juma, and Mhamed Shee.

Others were MV Miltzow captain William Otieno, Ali Jabir, N Andrew and Mohamed Aswaa. The Sri Lankan captain S Mahalingham, a Tanzanian, Juma Mvita and a Ugandan were also part of the group. Relatives and friends braved the scorching heat and climbed aboard the MV Semlow ship to receive their beloved ones.

There were hugs and kisses from the seamen’s wives as they were reunited with their husbands who had been held in Somalia for almost four months. MV Semlow chief officer Mohamed Shee’s wife, Fatuma, was overjoyed upon receiving her husband.

Fatuma, accompanied by her son, Ahmed Shee, a Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education examination candidate, said the arrival of her husband would enable her son to concentrate on exams. Rashid Juma’s wife, Mwanasiti, said they would hold a party for their kin. "We are happy that he arrived home safe. We had lost hope after suffering for more than three months. But God was on his side," she said.

The ship’s agent Karim Kudrati and Kenya’s ambassador to Somalia, Mohamed Affey, were the first to receive the two vessels. Also welcoming the crew were the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) Somalia deputy country director, Leo van der Velden, and Information officer, Said Warsame.

The WFP official said the agency was glad that the crew had arrived. Said Velden: "It is great joy, especially for the eight Kenyans who have been missing their families for almost four months now."
He said it was crucial for the coalition forces to resume patrols on Somalia’s territorial waters to eliminate increasing incidences of piracy.

Velden said this had affected the agency’s plans of ferrying relief supplies to Somalia where
millions of famine stricken people are suffering. "International marine forces must intervene if WFP is to save lives in the war-torn country," Velden said.

"The whole country is in celebration following the arrival of Chief Engineer Juma Mvita who had been held by Somali warlords since June. "We hope that the international community will provide armed escort to ships which ferry relief supplies to Somalia to prevent further hijacking of ships and their crew members," said Mr N M Mboyi, Tanzanian High Commissioner.

The Sri Lanka High Commissioner also reiterated the call to the UN to provide security to vessels, which transport relief food to Somalia. "For the safety of the ships and crew, the UN needs to provide armed escort. This will enable the relief supplies from WFP reach the people who are suffering in Somalia," he said.

Keeran, however, urged Somalia’s transitional government to help in seeking the release of MV Torgelow, captained by a Sri Lankan, which is still under the hands of the warlords. The seamen aboard MV Semlow narrated their harrowing ordeal when the ship was hijacked between Haradheere and El Maan port.

Mr Patrick Ogutu, a seaman aboard the vessel said the ship was hijacked on June 25 shortly after 7pm and not June 27 as earlier reported. He said the more than 20 gunmen aboard three boats attacked their ship before ordering the captain to anchor it.

Within seconds, he said, the armed warlords climbed aboard the vessel and ordered them sit down. He recalls a chilling moment when the gunmen’s commander placed a gun on the back of his head and ordered him to lead him to the ship’s captain. "I could feel the cold rifle on the back of my head as I led him to the captain so as to save my life," he said.

The commander then led the captain and the ship chief officer to one side of the vessel and demanded that they surrender all the cash they had. The two gave the gang leader $ 8,500 as they pleaded with him to spare their lives. Ogutu said the gunmen then went on a looting spree and robbed them of watches, radios, mobile phones and clothes.

The seamen said they lived in constant fear of the gunmen who shot in the air daily to scare away rivals who may want to hijack the vessel. Another seamen Juma Pembe recalls how the warlords burned with rage when they asked the crew to switch on the ship’s generator though it lacked fuel.
When told that there was no fuel, the gunmen, in a fit of rage, cocked their guns and shot at the ship eight times.

Sometimes the gunmen carried their weapons, which included AK 47-assault rifles, anti-aircraft launchers, large purpose machine guns, grenades and bombs.
By Mathias Ringa, THE STANDARD

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