New Delhi, Sep 30 (UNI) With 18 Indian seafarers reportedly running short of water and rations after their ship was seized by Somalian pirates 15 days ago, relatives and friends urged 'immediate' steps this evening to secure their release.
''Bring an end to the ordeal of these innocent seafarers,'' Seema Goyal, wife of Captain Prabhat Goyal urged in a petition to Shipping, Road Transport and Highways Minister T R Baalu.
Chemical tanker Stolt Valor, a Japanese-owned ship flying the Hong Kong flag and manned by a crew of 22, was sailing from Houston, in the United States, to Bombay when it was hijacked in the Gulf of Aden on September 15.
The tanker was carrying phosphoric acid and lubricating oil for Indian end-users, including Indian Farmers Fertiliser Cooperative Limited at Kandla.
As many as 18 of the 22, including captain Goyal, are Indian, one Russian, one Bangladeshi and two Filipinos.
The hijackers appeared to have originally demanded six million dollars but lowered the demand to 2.5 million dollars, Mrs Goyal told a meeting at the Indian Society of International Law.
She said Capt Goyal and crew members have been in touch with her from the ship's bridge, presumably using a satellite phone.
''For last 18 days, these 22 sailors are living under the shadow of guns with constant threat to their lives, and look upon the government of India as their last hope.
''Yesterday, a crew member telephoned me and said they will be out of fresh water in a day or two, and rations, in another 3-4 days,'' Mrs Goyal said.
''I do not understand what the delay is about,'' Ms Goyal said after submitting a petition in the Shipping Minister's office.
Under the Merchant Shipping Act 1958, the Director General of Shipping, who licenses recruiters of Indian seamen and officers, is also responsible for the welfare of Indian seamen, experts say.
The post has been vacant since the last incumbent, Kiran Dhingra, was transferred to the Ministry of Housing and Urban Poverty Alleviation 19 days ago.
The delegation of seafarers' relatives and friends she led also met some Society officers, including secretary general Rahmatullah Khan and former treasurer Joginder Singh Gill.
She has also requested a meeting with United Progressive Alliance chairman Sonia Gandhi.
As many as 55 ships have been attacked off the coast of Somalia since January and 11 were still being held for ransom, published accounts indicate.
The International Maritime Bureau has issued an advisory urging ships to stay 250 Nautical Miles away from the Somali coast.
The ship was reportedly in a corridor made ''safe'' by a coalition of US, British and French forces.
An official for the recruiting agent declined to comment on negotiations under way.
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