Tuesday, September 11, 2012
Four Koreans are still being held in Somalia in the longest detention by pirates on record. The Foreign Ministry on Monday said four sailors aboard the Singapore-registered MT Gemini have been held captive for 500 days since they were kidnapped at sea 310 km southeast of Kenya's Mombasa port on April 30 last year.
Having received a ransom from the Singaporean owner on Nov. 30, the Somali pirates released 21 sailors from Burma, China and Indonesia out of the 25-member crew but did not let the Koreans go and took them deep into the interior of Somalia.
The pirates were initially supposed to leave the ship within 24 hours after they got the ransom, which was dropped from a helicopter, while leaving the crew behind. But in the early hours, when multinational naval forces relaxed their supervision, the pirates took the Koreans again.
They then demanded compensation for the eight pirates who were killed in the rescue of a Korean freighter in the Gulf of Aden in January 2011, and the release of those captured during the operation. But the suspicion is that they simply want more money.
Recently the pirates asked for a ransom several times higher than the ship owner was willing to pay and there have been no further political demands, sources said.
The pirates are trying to take advantage of media attention. A government source here said, "They even spread a rumor that one of the Korean sailors has died. They are trying to gain an advantage in negotiations by seeking more attention from the media at home and abroad."
The Foreign Ministry therefore placed a year-long news embargo on the case in the Korean media. The pirates hope media attention here will lead to change in the government’s position that it will not negotiate with pirates, but the ship owner plays the leading role in negotiations.
According to government sources, the kidnapped Koreans including the captain are safe but forced to move around Somalia. In late July, the captain contacted the kidnapped crew's families to say that they are safe, sources said. There are calls to resolve the case as soon as possible as a Syrian hostage was reportedly killed by pirates there in recent months.