Kerala’s Chief Minister Oommen Chandy wants Somali pirates held in India to be released in exchange for up to seven Indian crew of the ‘Asphalt Venture’ that have been held hostage on land in Somalia for the last two years. Media reports say that Chandy has spoken to Minister of Shipping GK Vasan and the newly appointed External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid about the issue. He has also met Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Home Minister Chidambaram, and is reported to have disclosed that the ‘top leadership’ of the government is ready for a swap deal.
The vessel was taken in September 2010 and held with fifteen crew. Seven months later, she was released on the payment of a reported $3.5 million dollar ransom; however, seven Indian crewmembers were held back and moved to land near Harardheere. Amongst them, two residents of Kerala.
The State’s Chief Minister has now ‘expressed anguish’ over the Centre’s delay in exchanging some of the more than hundred Somali pirates apprehended by India and incarcerated in prison in Mumbai. Their compatriots in Somalia want them released in exchange for the Indian hostages- two of whom the pirates say have died in their custody.
“I don’t think there is no other way out to save the lives of Indians who have been held hostages since September 28, 2010. What is the use in keeping these pirates in our jails?” Oommen Chandy said last week.
Chandy indicated that the Maharashtra government was against the swap, and wants the pirates to be put on trial before any decision is made. He says he will write to Maharashtra Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan; Chandy has already asked the Centre to expedite these court cases so that the Indian hostages could be released soon.
“Immediate action is needed to end the agony of the families of hostages. It is a humanitarian issue,” he said.