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Hostage crisis: Navy diverts warship to Somalia
Swap deal not one of the option
Ajay Banerjee
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, April 17
As Somalian pirates continue to hold seven Indian merchant sailors hostage, the Indian Navy, in what is a possible retaliatory posture, today diverted a warship from anti-piracy patrolling duties to station it off the coast of Somalia in North-eastern Africa.

On Friday pirates released eight of the 15 Indian sailors held hostage since September last year. Seven other Indians, which includes six officers, have been held back despite the pirates having got an undisclosed sum as ransom from the owners of the merchant ship MV Asphalt Venture. The ship was hijacked in September last year when it was on its way to Durban from Mombassa, Kenya.

The pirates have been quoted in the international media as wanting to trade the seven Indian sailors in a “swap deal” with Indian authorities to seek the release of more than 100 of their brethren captured by the Indian Navy. Sources confirmed that representatives of the external affairs, home affairs, defence and shipping ministries, respectively, met today to take stock of the situation.

The Navy was tasked to send its warship. A Talwar class frigate a 4000-tonne vessel has been diverted from the its anti-piracy duties off the gulf of Aden to be stationed off the coast of Somalia, sources said while refusing to give further details on the operations the ship will carry out. Additional ships will take some five days to reach, hence the Indian Navy can seek the aid of other Navies in the areas. A flotilla of European and US-led Navies is on patrol close by and the international Navies usually cooperate with each other at high seas.

Authorities are tight-lipped about the possible options that the government will exercise to free the remaining seven hostages. A “swap deal” is not one of the options on the table. The last time India was involved in the hostage “swap deal” was in Kandahar 1999 when three terrorists were released to free 150 passengers of the Indian Airlines flight IC-814 taken hostage by pro-Taliban militants.

Meanwhile, this morning the MV Asphalt Venture owners appealed to Somali pirates to keep their word and release the vessels remaining seven Indian sailors. The owners have expressed deep disappointment over the pirates reneging on their word. This is despite meeting all demands of the negotiated settlement and paying the mutually agreed ransom, an official statement issued by the company said.





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