Tears as 26 Asian captives of Somali pirates reach Kenya safely
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Tears as 26 Asian captives of Somali pirates reach Kenya safely

THE GROUP of 26 Asian sailors who were freed after being held hostage by Somali pirates for nearly half a decade, finally tasted freedom Sunday as they touched down in Kenya, shedding tears of joy as they celebrated the end of their harrowing ordeal.

One of the hostages, Sudi Ahman, whose nationality was not disclosed, told the AFP that he was tremendously relieved that the ordeal was over.

“Am so, so happy. Really, am so, so happy. For UN, for Mr John (negotiator), for all the world. Thanks to you all,” he was quoted as saying.

The release of the captives was aided by Hostage Support Partners (HSP) coordinator, John Steed, who went to Galkayo in Somalia to fetch the crew. The Naham 3 crew members, according to the AFP, have been held longer than any other crew except one.

“We have been working on this for four-and-a-half years… it’s great to bring them home and hand them over to their embassies and their families,” Steed was quoted saying by the news agency.

SEE ALSO: Pirates kidnap four Indonesians, try to hijack their vessels

The crew from Vietnam, Taiwan, Cambodia, Indonesia, China and the Philippines had been among the few hostages still in the hands of Somali pirates.

Steed, a retired British colonel, said he had made it a personal mission to rescue “forgotten hostages”, who were mostly fisherman who had no insurance and were prone to be held captive by pirates for long periods.

“We have achieved what we achieved today by getting elders, religious community and local leaders and regional government all involved to put pressure on these guys to release the hostages,” Steed said.

SEE ALSO: Malaysian navy rescues oil tanker crew; hunts pirates in Vietnamese waters

Earlier on Saturday, a Somalian pirate said the hostages were released after ransom was paid to secure their freedom.

Bile Hussein, a Somali pirate, confirmed that the sailor released were the crew of Naham 3, a Taiwan-owned fishing vessel seized by pirates in March 2012. The ship later sank.

Hussein said US$1.5 million in ransom was paid for the sailors’ release. His claim, however, could not be independently verified.

In March 2012, pirates hijacked the Naham 3 south of the Seychelles, seizing the vessel and taking 29 crew members hostage.

A statement from Oceans Beyond Piracy (OBP) on Saturday said one sailor died during the heist while another two died from illnesses during captivity.

Piracy off Somalia’s coast was once a serious threat to the global shipping industry, but attacks have dropped dramatically in recent years after ships began carrying armed guards and European Union naval forces increased patrols.

Additional reporting by the Associated Press