Stolt Valor hijacking brings focus on piracy

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New Delhi, Nov 17 (UNI) Even as the release of the Japanese-owned Motor Vessel Stolt Valor brought back smiles on the faces of families of 18 Indians aboard, its managers say, ''we have to live with high-sea crime.'' Though the Indian sailors are safe and homeward bound - heading for Mumbai after a harrowing two-month ordeal in pirates' clutches- they seem to be in the grip of fear psychosis till they sail out of the piracy-affected zone.

The vessel was hijacked by pirates in the Gulf of Aden, 150 km off the coast of Somalia on September 15 and taken to Eyl - a town in Somalia's northern Puntland region -- where they were held hostage for 62 days.

''Such high-sea piracy goes on unabated in that zone that has become infamous over several years as the world's piracy capital.

This time round, courtesy media hype, it caught the attention of people in India,'' Mr S P Singh - whose company is responsible for management of M V Stolt Valor - told UNI here today.

Undeterred by such incidents, ''ships sail to and fro on the Suez Canal and cross the Gulf of Aden even today. This will go on and we have no option but to live with it,'' Mr Singh felt.

Except for the United States, United Kingdom and some other developed countries, no country can provide comprehensive aerial security cover. He appreciated the Government of India's bold measure of deploying Indian Navy frigates around Somalian waters to ensure safety of the Indian sailors and material, which paid rich dividends by acting as a ''deterrent.'' Mr Singh explained that the pirates' only mission is to extort ransom that ranges between six and eight million US dollars at the outset but slips down as time passes and is finally settled between one and two million dollars particularly in cases of those who hail from poor countries having low value for human life.

In the present case, the initial demand of six million dollars slumped to 2.5 million and finally they reportedly negotiated for about 1.4 million dollars.

''They (Somali pirates) do not harm anyone. However, the hostages are bound to suffer depression as a follow-up of being in captivity for a prolonged period,'' Mr Singh explained while advising the kin of those who were taken hostage to be unperturbed besides exercising restraint and patience.

Asked if the incident would have a long-term effect by posing a manpower problem in future, he replied in the negative by saying that the sole likelihood would be a demand for higher wages. If some withdraw themselves in the wake of family pressure, there are a lot many others willing to take the risk but at higher wages. At present, a sailor gets about Rs 30 to 40 lakh for a five to six-month period.

In the context of the ill-fated ship, he clarified that the owner would have to bear the financial responsibilities. ''We have taken the ship's management on contract and hired manpower whose salaries are reimbursed by the shipping company.'' UNI AB RP AS1525

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