NAIROBI • A group of 26 hostages, all of whom were Asian crewmen of an Omani-flagged fishing vessel seized nearly five years ago by Somali pirates, have arrived in Kenya, with both tears and smiles marking the end of their ordeal.
"Am so, so happy. Really am so, so happy. For UN, for Mr John (negotiator), for all the world. Thanks to you all," one of the hostages, Mr Sudi Ahman, said on Sunday.
The crew from China, the Philippines, Cambodia, Indonesia, Vietnam and Taiwan were seized when the Omani-flagged FV Naham 3 was hijacked by Somali pirates close to the Seychelles in March 2012, when pirate attacks were common in the area.
The relief of the men was palpable, with some unable to hold back tears while others hugged each other and smiled broadly.
Mr John Steed, coordinator of Hostage Support Partners (HSP) who helped negotiate their release, had gone to the Somali city of Galkayo to fetch the crew of the Naham 3, who had been held hostage for longer than any other crew except one.
A retired British colonel, Mr Steed has made it his mission to rescue "forgotten hostages": Poor fishermen with no insurance who are often left languishing the longest in the hands of pirates.
Pirates initially took 29 crew members hostage, but one died during the hijacking, and two more "succumbed to illness" during their captivity, said a statement from Oceans Beyond Piracy (OBP) on Saturday.
"We have achieved what we achieved today by getting elders, the religious community and local leaders and regional government all involved to put pressure on these guys to release the hostages," said Mr Steed.
Only a crew of Thai fishermen, released in February last year after nearly five years in captivity, spent longer in the hands of Somali pirates.
Mr Steed said the crew was malnourished and one of the hostages had a bullet wound in his foot, another had suffered a stroke and another had diabetes.
At the peak of the piracy epidemic in January 2011, Somali pirates held 736 hostages and 32 boats.
There are still 10 Iranian hostages taken last year and three Kenyan kidnap victims - one a seriously ill, paralysed woman - in the hands of pirates, said Mr Steed.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS