Today from Hiiraan Online:  _
A year on, no news of sailors abducted by Somali pirates
Tuesday, March 05, 2013

They try their best to conceal their emotions but it's hard to hold back the tears. When we met Mehtab Jahan from Allahabad, she was sitting on a footpath outside Transport Bhawan in the national capital along with a few other families.

All of them are from different parts of the country; yet, they are united in their anxiety. Anxiety over the safe return of their young relatives, all taken hostage by pirates off the coast of Somalia last March.

There are 17 Indians on board MT Royal Grace, most of them first-time sailors. Negotiations for their release were in progress till mid-December last year, the last time most families spoke to their relatives held hostage. The pirates had given a deadline of December 20, 2012 for their demands to be met - there has been no contact with them since.

Mehtab says, "My son is 27 years old. He has two little children who miss him and are constantly asking about their father. Nothing I say can reassure them."

Lokdass Sahu's son is only 25 years old. It's his first time at sea. Sahu, who hails  from Chhatisgarh, last spoke to his son in June 2012. There has been no contact after that. "We spoke to him through the negotiator," he told NDTV, "he said things were very difficult and that the pirates constantly threatened to kill the hostages. But, apart from assurances from the government, we have nothing else."

Rajesh's brother is only 24 and works as a cadet on board. He said, "When we meet officers from the Shipping Ministry, they tell us to go to the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA). And the MEA tells us to speak to the Shipping Ministry. The fate of our young boys hangs in balance."

These families have camped on the footpath outside Transport Bhawan, which houses the offices of the Shipping Ministry. Mehtab says, "This time, we will sit for as long as it takes to get answers. Even if that means we have to die here."

It's as if life has come to a standstill for these families. One family member we met said he has to pretend that everything is normal when he is at home. His parents have a heart condition and he feels that news of the hijack will only worsen their condition. When his parents ask after his brother, he says his bond has been extended and so he's still sailing.

The past year has been tough on these families to say the least. They have no idea if their loved ones are safe and have no answers or assurances to take back home.


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