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Pirates holding estimated 97 seafarers for ransom

Aug. 20, 2013 at 4:27 PM   |   Comments

MOGADISHU, Somalia, Aug. 20 (UPI) -- While pirate attacks off the Somali shore have decreased of late, 97 sailors are being held for ransom with no one to pay for their safe return, officials said.

While most major shipping companies carry anti-piracy insurance riders that require a third party to pay off pirates who board ships and hold crew and cargo hostage, some smaller, independent ships don't have that backup plan, Voice of America reported Tuesday.

Among those being held are members of the privately owned Malaysian flagged MV Albedo. The ship's Iranian owner has disappeared, leaving no one to foot the bill for a ransom payment and negotiations have come to a standstill two years and nine months after the ship was commandeered. A Pakistani businessman raised $1.2 million to pay for the release of seven Pakistani crew members but 11 others from Sri Lanka, Iran, India and Bangladesh have no such benefactor and remain held by the pirates, said John Steed, a counter piracy expert who's been in contact with those holding the men.

Steed said negotiations have stalled because there's no revenue source. That means it's his job to talk the pirates into giving up the men and moving on -- no easy task.

Jay Bahadur, author of the book "Pirates of Somalia," said it can be difficult to convince pirates they have nothing to gain in some situations because in so many cases companies pony up the money to pay them off.

"It's very hard to convince pirates that you're the one company, the one organization that doesn't have money to pay them," Bahadur said. "And more to the point, pirate gangs often finance their operations on credit. If you've put out over the course of three years hundreds of thousands of dollars to buy food, to pay your men, to buy them khat [a plant chewed for euphoria-inducing properties], you're going to owe people on land."

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