Saturday, January 26, 2013
By Mateen Hafeez
MUMBAI: As the trial of 120 Somali piratesbegins in Mumbai, the Indian government has received a communication from sea brigands in the north-east African nation offering the release of 46 Indian sailors held hostage in return for the captured pirates' freedom.
The message proffering a swap was sent mid-January to the Union ministry of shipping, said security establishment sources. It came days before the trial of 120 pirates started in a Sewri fast-track court on January 21. Worried by the bargain proposal, the additional chief secretary (home ministry) recently held a meeting in Maharashtra with officials of the directorate-general of shipping and two senior police officers, a source said.
"The Somali pirates are blackmailing the Indian government. They have declared that they will release the Indian sailors—most of whom hail from Gujarat and Kerala—if their 120 associates are released by the government," said the source. The Indian seafarers, it is believed, were taken prisoner in various attacks.
"It will be the decision of the court looking at the pirates' crimes," said the source. "They are facing charges of waging war against the nation, kidnapping, murder, smuggling arms and ammunition, attempt to murder, apart from several charges under sections of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act."
The 120 pirates being tried in Mumbai were captured by the Indian Navy in numerous raids. Around 60 of them were caught in March 2011 when naval ships intercepted the pirate mother vessel, Vega 5, in the Arabian Sea about 600 nautical miles west of India. Some others were netted when the Navy launched an assault to free the fishing trawler Al Murtaza that was captured by Somali pirates. In these and other raids about 70 hostages belonging to Thailand, Philippines, Bangladesh, Iran, Turkey, Myanmar and Pakistan were rescued and 11 AK-47 rifles with magazines, 10 AK-47s without magazines and two rocket-launchers were seized.
The Yellow Gate police have filed four chargesheets, each about 500-pages long against the 120 pirates, 16 of whom face murder charges.