3 Vietnam hostages return home from Somali pirate ordeal to joyous reunion with relatives

Nguyen Van Ha, one of three Vietnamese sailors freed by Somali pirates, walking at Noi Bai airport in Hanoi, Vietnam, on Oct 25, 2016.
Nguyen Van Ha, one of three Vietnamese sailors freed by Somali pirates, walking at Noi Bai airport in Hanoi, Vietnam, on Oct 25, 2016. PHOTO: EPA

HANOI (AFP) - Three Vietnamese fishermen held hostage for nearly five years by Somali pirates returned home on Tuesday (Oct 25) to weeping relatives, saying they were "overwhelmed" with joy after their harrowing kidnapping.

The men were among 26 hostages freed on Sunday who belonged to the crew of Naham 3, an Omani-flagged vessel that was seized south of the Seychelles in March 2012.

After a long flight from Kenya, a stunned looking Mr Nguyen Xuan Phuong was greeted by his beaming father, who shouted the 27-year-old's name as he spotted him at Hanoi's Noi Bai international airport.

"I am overwhelmed with happiness," Mr Phuong told AFP, as he embraced his tearful dad.

His crew, which also included seafarers from China, Indonesia, Philippines, Cambodia and Taiwan, was taken hostage at the peak of Somali piracy.

Only one other crew of fishermen spent longer in the hands of Somali pirates.

The hostage takers initially captured 29 crew members from the Naham 3, but one died during the hijacking and two more died of illness during their captivity.

Mr Phuong's father said the four and a half years without his son were agonising.

"We were so worried for him. We could do nothing but wait and wait," said 71-year-old Mr Phan Xuan Linh, who travelled 300km to collect Mr Phuong and bring him home to central Nghe An province.

Mr Phuong, whose fishing employment paid US$380 a month, said he thought constantly of his parents and suffered in the "very hot" conditions of Somalia, where the crew was held.

"We suffered a lot, we lacked so many things," he told AFP.

Fellow hostage Nguyen Van Ha, 35, embraced his tearful wife and young children as they were reunited at the airport, and said he was stalked by terror during his long stretch in captivity.

"Fear lingered the whole time we were there," he said, crammed inside a car with the two other survivors, surrounded by a crush of reporters.

"I am very happy to see my family. Thank you everyone."

Mr Nguyen Van Xuan, 35, was the third Vietnamese hostage freed.