Families plead to gov’t to rescue men from pirates
The families of four Korean seamen who were abducted by Somali pirates 529 days ago broke into tears yesterday and pleaded to the government and the United Nations to take more measures to bring them back home safely.
“Please lend an ear to the painful outcries of the crew members who are hoping to live,” said one of the family members, who burst into tears at a press conference held in central Seoul.
“The United Nations secretary general, [Korea’s] president and foreign affairs minister, please save our family members .?.?. Please don’t turn away from them, who are standing on the edge of a cliff.”
On April 30, 2011, Somali pirates hijacked the 21,000-ton vessel MT Gemini operated by a Singapore-based Glory Ship Management, in which there were 25 crew members, including four Koreans.
The vessel, which was on its way from Indonesia to Kenya with 28,000 tons of palm oil, was taken by the pirates 200 miles off the coast of Kenya.
Last December, the pirates freed the vessel and 21 crew members - 13 from Indonesia, 3 from Myanmar and 5 from China - were released after the Singaporean company paid a ransom. Four Korean seamen, however, were held captive in Somalia.
The pirates are known to have captured only Korean seamen to threaten Seoul to free five Somali pirates who were captured during a rescue operation of the hijacked chemical tanker Samho Jewelry in January, 2011. The pirates are also known to have demanded compensation for eight pirates killed during the operation last year.
Some 30 family members of the four seamen, including the captain and chief engineer, were present at the conference.
Until yesterday, the family members and media have remained silent on the case, as been proposed by the Korean government out of concern that any kind of publicity could affect the negotiation process officially between the Singaporean company and the pirates.
The families, however, said it’s time that they ask openly for support.
“We don’t expect them to return home healthy but hope for them to come home alive,” said another family member. “We’ve been waiting quietly so that the negotiation is successfully carried out but we can’t stand by any longer and decide to hold a conference to request more support from the people and the government.”
Some family members said they received threatening calls from the Somali pirates that “they will shoot and kill the hostages.” The latest threat was made in July. No calls were made to the family since then.
According to sources, the Singaporean company has been in steady contact with the pirates but the two sides were unable to find common ground for release of the four Korean men. The ransom the pirates are requesting is known to be several times bigger than the amount proposed by the Singaporean company.
After the press conference, the family members met with Foreign Minister Kim Sung-hwan, and according to an official who attended the closed-door meeting, Kim told them he was “sorry” for no tangible results in the efforts to secure the four seamen’s release.
By Lee Eun-joo [email@example.com]
with the Korea JoongAng Daily
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