Twenty-six Asain sailors held captive by Somali pirates for four years have been set free on Saturday, according to government officials and a maritime expert.
The sailors were held captive in a small fishing village since their Omani-flagged FV Naham 3 ship was hijacked in the Indian Ocean; south of Seychelles in March 2012.
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The captured sailors were from China, the Philippines, Cambodia, Indonesia, Vietnam and Taiwan.
Bile Hussein, a representative of the pirates, said a $1.5m ransom was paid for the release of the sailors. No other source has confirmed the ransom claim.
One of the 26 men spoke to the BBC about the dire conditions in which they had to endure to survive. Arnel Balbero said the group was forced to eat anything they came across including rats with very little amounts of water.
”Eat anything, even you not like, you feel hungry, you eat it. You eat rat, you cook it.”
He added that it was very hard to imagine restarting his life because the Pirates treated the group like animals.
East Africa region manager for the Oceans Beyond Piracy group, John Steed, said the sailors would stay overnight in Galkayo before heading to Nairobi on Sunday.
“They are reported to be in reasonable condition, considering their ordeal … They have spent more than four-and-a-half years in deplorable conditions away from their families.”
He added that two crew members died from illnesses in captivity and the 26 released will be repatriated to their home countries.
The four plus years period of captivity is one of the longest among hostages seized by pirates in the Horn of Africa region.
International mediators say this release means there are no more seafarers in captivity from the height of the recent Somali piracy.
Piracy off the coast of Somalia has also subsided over the past few years due to the huge presence of international warships and shipping firms hiring private security.