Islamabad: Six Indian sailors held captive by Somali pirates for 10 long months are finally free, thanks to a respected Pakistani rights activist, officials said Tuesday. The families of the Indians offered their heartfelt thanks to the Pakistanis while denouncing Indian politicians for their alleged indifference.
The six Indians, part of a 22-member crew of Egyptian merchant vessel MV Suez, were released after ransom was paid for their freedom by the shipowners, the family members of the sailors said. MV Suez was hijacked by pirates in the Gulf of Aden Aug 2, 2010.
Pakistani activist Ansar Burney, who negotiated with the pirates and raised ransom money through donations, announced in Karachi that all the men had been freed. He said they would reach their homes in a few days.
The ransom reportedly totalled $2.1 million.
Apart from the 11 Egyptians, four Pakistanis and one Sri Lankan, the Indians include two from Haryana and one each from Himachal Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Jammu and Kashmir and Mumbai.
Families of the Indian sailors thanked Burney -- and the Pakistani authorities.
"We are very thankful to Burney and Pakistan government for their help. They paid a ransom of $2.1 million to make this release possible. Burney was negotiating with the pirates for the last few months," Sampa Arya, wife of one of the Indian hostages said.
Her husband Ravinder Gulia, 30, is a resident of Haryana`s Rohtak town. She spoke to IANS in Chandigarh.
"I have talked to my husband over the phone. He said they have been released and all of them are in good health. They will reach India in the next few days," she added.
Burney, a former Pakistani federal minister for human rights, heads the Ansar Burney Trust.
Arya was very critical of the Indian government.
"Burney raised funds with the help of the Pakistan government. Here, the Indian government let us down. We met many leaders but nobody helped. They said paying ransom is not the right way. I have lost my faith in Indian politicians," she said.
Said Rajender Gulia, her father-in-law: "Pakistan has helped us like an elder brother. We had lost all hopes as no Indian politician was ready to help us. Saving a human life was not important for them. Pakistan emerged as a saviour for us."
Indian External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna welcomed the release of the sailors but parried questions on the Pakistani involvement.
"We are happy they have been released and the ship is now moving out," Krishna told reporters in New Delhi.
"Let us not get into a speculative analysis on who is behind it and who is provoking it."
A leading Pakistani politician asked India to reciprocate the Pakistani gesture.
"Pakistani organisations worked tirelessly to secure the release of the captive Indians as well, proving that Pakistan does not favour hostility but humanity," Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) chief Altaf Hussain said.
"India must recognise this spirit and reciprocate with amity, not enmity," Urdu daily Jang Tuesday quoted him as saying.
Hussain said his comments were addressed to the entire Indian leadership including Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Congress chief Sonia Gandhi.
The mistrust between India and Pakistan must be overcome for a new relationship of friendship, he said.
The comments of the MQM chief, who lives in self-exile in London, came while he spoke on the phone to Sind Governor Ishratul Ibad and Burney in Karachi Monday.
The families of the four Pakistani sailors -- Syed Wasi Hasan, Muzzamil, Mohammed Alam and Ali Rehman -- were overjoyed.
Hasan told Geo News that the pirates had at one time threatened to kill him. He thanked the Pakistani nation and media and showered special praise on Burney.
Hasan, who said his captors fed him only rice and spaghetti during the entire ordeal, spoke to his wife and children.
Said Naila Alam, daughter of Mohammad Alam, the engineer of the hijacked ship: "We have been in pain and stress since August last year. But the pressure eased in seconds when Abbu told us over phone that he has been freed."