NAIROBI (Reuters) - 26 Asian sailors freed after more than four years of captivity in a small fishing village in Somalia arrived in the Kenyan capital Nairobi on Sunday, ahead of flights home, a maritime expert said.
The crew from China, the Philippines, Cambodia, Indonesia, Vietnam and Taiwan were seized when the Omani-flagged FV Naham 3 was hijacked by Somali pirates close to the Seychelles in March 2012, when pirate attacks were common in the area.
The pirates handed the group to authorities in the northern Somali town of Galkayo on Saturday morning.
“It is great to be here today and to bring them home and to hand them over to their embassies and their families,” said John Steed, East Africa region manager for the Oceans Beyond Piracy group.
“We have achieved what we have achieved by getting tribal elders, religious leaders, the community and regional government all involved to put pressure on these guys to release these hostages,” he said at Nairobi’s airport, where the sailors arrived on a United Nations humanitarian flight.
Their period of captivity is one of the longest among hostages seized by pirates in the anarchic Horn of Africa nation.
The sailors were held in Dabagala near the town of Harardheere some 400 km (250 miles) northeast of the capital Mogadishu. Harardheere became known as Somalia’s main pirate base at the height of the crisis.
The Oceans Beyond Piracy group said the crew were brought ashore by pirates when their ship sank more than a year after its hijacking.
Piracy off Somalia’s coast has subsided in the past three years, mainly due to shipping firms hiring private security and the presence of international warships.
The wave of attacks had cost the world’s shipping industry billions of dollars as pirates paralyzed shipping lanes, kidnapped hundreds of seafarers and seized vessels more than 1,000 miles from Somalia’s coastline.
Writing by Aaron Maasho; Editing by Susan Thomas