ISSN: 1391 - 0531
Sunday, April 01, 2007
Vol. 41 - No 44

Storm over sea saga

Relatives of hijacked ship crew members charge Foreign Ministry dragging feet over securing release; Ministry denies allegations

By Nalaka Nonis

Things are on course says Ministry

Meanwhile the Foreign Ministry officials deny allegations that they are doing little to secure the release of those hijacked.

“We have communicated with the shipping company, WFP officials, UN and Kenyan Foreign Ministry and asked for their intervention in the matter,” a ministry spokesman said. However he admitted that they hadn’t so far received any positive response in regard to the release of the crew that were in the custody of the Somalian pirates.

He said the Sri Lankan High Commission in Kenya had contacted the transitional government in Somalia and they in turn had requested the regional government there to intervene in the matter.

He also said they were receiving daily updates from the Sri Lankan High Commission in Kenya with regard to the situation of the hostages.

Relatives of the six Sri Lankan crew members who were taken hostage by sea pirates in Somalia in February say the lives of their loved ones appear to be at the mercy of fate, as the government is doing little or nothing to secure their release.

The six Sri Lankans together with six Kenyans employed in a shipping company, Motaku Shipping Agency in Kenya were taken hostage by pirates on February 25 when the ship was returning from Somalia to Mombassa in Kenya after delivering food to the drought-stricken country. The ship had been chartered by the World Food Programme (WFP).

Among the abducted Sri Lankan crew members were the captain of the ship Priyantha Perera , chief officer Hector Norman Ranasinghe and seamen Athula Pushpa Mahanama, F.T. Fernando, Janakalal Ramanayake and G.P. Samarasinghe.

Family members charge they have got little by way of a firm assurance by government officials that everything possible is being done to ensure the release of the hostages, except to be told that they were negotiating with relevant parties.

The captain’s wife Nelum Perera claimed although they had pleaded with the Foreign Minister Rohitha Bogollagama and other officials to intervene in the matter, nothing concrete was happening. She said after many attempts of trying to meet Mr. Bogollagma one of her friends had managed to meet him and that too very briefly. He had promised to look in to the matter but to no avail, she said.

She said that the shipping company’s director Karim Kudrati who was in constant touch with her had told her that it was essential that the Sri Lankan government made a proper representation as the situation was out of their hands. Mrs. Perera said she had learnt that some countries including the US was exerting pressure on Kenyan authorities not to give into ransom demands as that could establish a precedent.

According to reports from Kenya the sea pirates who were earlier demanding a ransom of USD 150,000 for the release of the crew have now increased the amount to USD 400, 000.

“My husband who has had more than 25 years of experience as a seaman called me about a week after the pirates had seized them and he said that the situation was getting bad and that he wasn’t certain about his return,” Mrs. Perera lamented.

She said however last week her husband had sent an SMS saying, “we are still alive”.

The chief officer Norman Ranasinghe’s wife, Sriyanthi Weerasinghe also charged that the government was doing very little to secure their release.

“It is the government that has to intervene at a diplomatic level since the shipping owners say it is out of their hands,” she said.

She also added that she had written to President Rajapaksa, Mr. Bogollagama, the UN, and World Food programme but she hadn’t got a positive reply.

Mari Fernando, wife of M.F.T. Fernando, the second engineer of the ship said she has given up contacting the Foreign Ministry as they only tell her that they are negotiating with relevant parties but hardly tell them about the current status of their loved ones.

She said her husband had called her once after the ordeal. He had then said he was safe for the moment but hung up the phone when she asked when he would be coming back home.

Top to the page

Copyright 2007 Wijeya Newspapers Ltd.Colombo. Sri Lanka.