Somali pirates who took a multi-million dollar ransom for hijacked Indian freighter MT Asphalt Venture, have refused to release seven of the 15 Indian crew members held as hostages, in the first such step by sea-brigands.
Mumbai-based OMCI Ship Management, the owners of the ship, on Saturday clarified that all the crew members of the ill-fated vessel were Indians and seven of them were still being held.
The ship owners said that the pirates released the ship and eight of the crew members but added they were in the dark over why the other crew members were not allowed to leave and about their whereabouts.
"Despite concluding a dialogue with the pirates for the full release of 15 crew and vessel and payment of the ransom, the vessel has been released but the Master has reported that 6 officers and 1 rating were taken off the tanker and were made to accompany the pirates," OMCI Ship Management said.
A pirate told The Associated Press that the Indian crew members' hostage ordeal is being prolonged in retaliation for the arrests of more than 100 Somali pirates by the Indian Navy.
"We decided to keep the Indians because India is holding our colleagues," the pirate, Hassan Farah, was quoted as saying.
The asphalt/bitumen tanker was hijacked by pirates on way to South Africa from Kenya, southeast of Dar es Salaam in Tanzania on September 28, 2010. Eight of the captives were released on April 15 after over six months of negotiations.
Owners are at a fix over the development while there is
"... owners are unable to establish where the six officers and one rating had been taken and the reason for their continued detention. They are currently using all resources and channels available with them to understand the reasons behind this act," he said.
"Some media reports suggest that the pirates in Harardhere, off the Somalian shores, have taken the decision not to honour the agreement made but to prolong the hostage ordeal of the seven seafarers in retaliation for the arrest of Somali pirates by the Indian Navy," he added.
Meanwhile, OMCI said it is making contact with all the families of the captives to explain the situation and have assured them that all steps are being taken for their safe release.
The company said the vessel remains some five nautical miles off the town anchorage of Harardhere with eight released crew on board.
Earlier Shipping Minister G K Vasan said the government is taking all steps to check such incidents and seek safe release of the captives.
The Indian Navy has seized around 120 pirates, mostly from Somalia, over the past few months. Last month, the Indian Navy captured 61 pirates when they attacked a naval ship.
Indian warships have been escorting merchant ships as part of international anti-piracy surveillance in the Indian Ocean area since 2008.
Pirates currently hold some 30 ships and more than 600 hostages.