Thursday, 10 March 2011

‘Rak Afrikana’ sinks hours after being released by pirates

In fast moving developments that are still unfolding, the MV Rak Afrikana sent out a distress call hours after being released by pirates yesterday, saying that she had a large hole in a hull and was flooding. Spanish and Italian warships are believed to have responded quickly in picking up the crew and transferring them to the LPG carrier York, another vessel that has just been released by the pirates. The York is now said to be bound for Mombasa, where she will arrive n the next four or five days. One unconfirmed report says that one of the crew of the Rak Afrikana has died in captivity sometime ago. The rescued crew members are “reported to be in satisfactory condition considering that they have been held captive for the last 332 days”, according to media reports.

Two EU NAVFOR warships, the Spanish SPS Canarias and the Italian ITS Zeffiro carried out the rescue operation, after the Captain of the Afrikana said that the ship would probably sink in about five hours; there is, no far, no news on how the vessel was damaged and holed. The Afrikana was abandoned with the crew taking to the lifeboats, from where they were rescued by a Rigid-Hulled Inflatable Boat (RHIB) from the Italian warship shortly afterwards. In fast moving events that are still unfolding at the time of writing this report, the Afrikana survivors have been transferred aboard the York and are en route Mombasa.

The St Vincent & Grenadines-flagged MV Rak Afrikana was taken about 300 miles off the Seychelles on April 11, 2010. She was released after eleven months on Mar 9 this year amidst reports that a ransom had been paid; the hijackers had initially demanded 7 million dollars. Indian authorities had said at the time of release that 11 freed Indian crew were being taken to Kenya before being brought back to India, with the Indian Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao confirming that they were safe.

The news comes amidst growing media and political attention in India on the plight of Indian sailors held hostage by Somali pirates. Negotiations are believed to be on for the release of 6 Indians, amongst other Pakistani, Sri Lankan and Egyptian crew from aboard another hijacked ship, the MV Suez, after its hijackers set a deadline threatening to kill the crew. The Bharatiya Janata Party said in Parliament that “the ruling Congress party-led government is not doing enough to secure the release of Indians taken hostage by Somali pirates”

Foreign Minister SM Krishna countered this, saying that the government was "doing all that we can”, and that the authorities were in contact with the transitional government in Somalia and with the Egyptian Ambassador to India to arrange in the safe and quick release of the hostages.

The crew of the Rak Afrikana has had to endure an extremely harrowing eleven months. One can only hope that they are healthy- both mentally and physically- and wish them our best.

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