Wednesday, May 30, 2012
by Ramola Talwar Badam
DUBAI // Their telephones ring day and night, with Somali pirates on the other end threatening to beat their loved ones, force them to stand in the sun and go without food.
Nareman Jawaid, whose father Jawaid S. Khan is among the kidnap victims.
Jaime Puebla / The National
Incessant and increasing numbers of phone calls have alarmed the wives, children, cousins and other relatives of the 22 hostages on board the MV Albedo with continuous demands for ransom.
"They put pressure on me every other day and ask when the money is being dropped," said Shahnaz Jawaid, the wife of the ship's captain, Jawaid Khan. "They are calling families who never received phone calls in all these months.
"We are all totally tired. I'm so tired mentally, but I try to calm them and convince them that everything will be resolved soon. They are impatient and in a hurry to get the money."
Two security teams from Malaysia and a Pakistani citizens' committee are involved in talks with the pirates and hope to resolve the dispute by next month.
They will also handle the payment of US$2.85million (Dh10.4m) to the Somali raiders who hijacked the cargo ship.
The vessel was taken in November 2010 in the Gulf of Aden after leaving Jebel Ali for Kenya.
Seven Pakistanis, seven Bangladeshi, six Sri Lankans, an Indian and an Iranian are being held on the ship.
One Indian sailor died due to lack of medicine.
A group of philanthropists, businessmen and relatives from Pakistan announced two weeks ago that they had raised a portion of the ransom amount after several extensions to the pirates' deadline in April of this year.
The Malaysian-based ship owner, Omid Khosrojerdi, also agreed to raise at least half the ransom.
Several relatives from Pakistan and Sri Lanka, who did not want to be named, told of repeated phone calls in which hostages spoke of being tortured.
"Of course it's upsetting," Mrs Jawaid said. "But I've been getting these calls for the past 18 months. All I tell them is we have to hang on, we have to wait, and we have to pray very hard."
Nareman, Mrs Jawaid's Dubai-based daughter, described the strain of being away from home and having her mother cope with speaking to the pirates.
"But we cannot lose hope," she said. "Families are receiving calls and are frightened, but we must stay strong. People are working towards freeing our families and we must support them."
The ship owner's wife, who did not wish to give her first name, said her husband had been hospitalised due to the pressure and had handed negotiations over to the two Malaysian security teams.
She spoke of hourly phone calls from the pirates, who often threatened the life of a cousin on board by denying him food for three to four days.
"The security companies are making arrangements," she said. "We are hopeful everything will be finalised soon.
"We must have hope because there are so many lives on that ship."
Ahmed Chinoy, the chairman of the Citizens-Police Liaison Committee in Karachi, which represented the relatives with the pirates, plans to visit Dubai next week to speak with Somali businessmen.
During a visit here in March, those businessmen - who have links to Somali tribal leaders and other groups - helped Mr Chinoy slash the pirates' initial demand of a $10m ransom.
"Families are worried that time is running out," Mr Chinoy said. "So far, the Pakistani people have acted and we are helping the entire crew, but other countries must come forward. They must support the cause.
"Families are pressurising us about details of the release, but they should ask their own governments what they are doing to help."
He appealed for guidance from other countries which have experience in hostage negotiation with Somali pirates.
"We have meetings over the next week and we are also urging the Malaysian side to finalise the arrangements," he said.
"The crew has been treated inhumanely for more than a year. But the one way the pirates get a reaction is when the crew call family members. So they are trying to pressurise every family in every country."