53 Indian sailors in pirate-custody, back-channel talks on

53 Indian sailors in pirate-custody, back-channel talks on

The government will do everything possible for the release of Indians held hostage by Somalian pirates, External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna told the Rajya Sabha while advising restraint and emphasising the need to pursue back-channel negotiations.

"There is no use getting worked up and getting emotive. Let us be very objective in our assessment of the situation," Krishna said after BJP member S.S. Ahluwalia raised the issue during zero hour. Ahluwalia was joined by other opposition members from various parties.

"The incident is disturbing and serious. New Delhi attaches utmost importance to the safety and security of the Indian sailors," Krishna said.

"We will have to be restrained but at the same time we will have to pursue vigorously through back-channels, there cannot be any time limit."

With the release of the RAK Afrikana Wednesday night, held by Somali pirates with 11 Indian sailors among its crew, the number of Indian sailors held by Somali pirates is now 53.

The Indian sailors were seized during the capture of four Panama-flagged ships, including MV Iceberg, MV Suez MT Asphalt Venture, MV Sinin and MT Savina Caylyn bearing Italian flag.

Krishna added that negotiations are on at several levels and Indian diplomats in Cairo and Dubai are in touch with the private ship owners.

The minister also said that the ship owners are engaged in negotiations with the pirates and the Director General of Shipping, who is the nodal authority on movement of ships, is also making efforts to get the sailors released.

Replying to a specific query by Sitaram Yechury of the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M), the minister said efforts are on to set up joint patrolling by the countries affected by sea piracy.

In the case of all five ships that are presently held by pirates with Indian crew members, the Indian missions and posts concerned have been in regular touch with the ship owners and with the governments of countries, where these ship owners are based, to secure the release of Indian nationals, the external affairs ministry said in a statement Thursday. 

"Director General, Shipping has continued his efforts to expedite steps by the owners of the ships to secure the release of our sailors from the pirates," the ministry said.

The Indian ambassador in Cairo and the consul general in Dubai are also working energetically with their counterparts from other countries whose crew members have been held by the pirates in order to intensify efforts to secure the release of crew held in these ships, expeditiously.