FM hangs on to hostages’ wages

Thirteen Sri Lankans held hostage by Somali pirates
By Leon Berenger

Wijeymuni Elmo Annesley Soysa 58 is among the 13 Sri Lankan sailors currently held captive by Somali pirates who are demanding some $20 million in exchange for the release. He is the oldest among the group and in poor health. His family back home are praying seeking divine intervention for an early release.

Palitha Athukorale

Elmo’s wife Mareena, a staunch Roman Catholic spends much time at the local church hoping for a miracle that will free her husband and his mates. “My husband is a sick man with cholesterol, high blood pressure and diabetes. My thoughts are always with him and it is frightening.

Luckily my husband had packed six months of medicines before setting out on this voyage. It was to be his last. The pirates allowed him two telephone calls, each lasting two minutes,” she said. Mareena is also stone broke. They paid Rs. 250,000 as the fee to the local agent in order to sign her husband on board. It is now well over two months since he left the country.

“The recruiting agent said the company had sent two months wages that could be collected from the Foreign Ministry in Colombo. However Foreign Ministry officials tell us the draft was yet to be delivered by the Mission in Saudi Arabia and the buck ends there”, a seething Mareena added.

Iranga Jayasinghe was the Chief Engineer on the hijacked vessel and his father is a very anxious man at the moment. “I experienced the same issue with the Foreign Office. Officials told me that the money would arrive in the diplomatic pouch and this would take another week”, he said.

He added a certain lady official had been very helpful throughout the period. “But apparently her influence is limited. The delay is at the Embassy in Jeddah, he added. Local agent, Captain S.H.R. Kumar told the Sunday Times the maritime company had already released $21,000 to be distributed to the families of the 13 men, and this was done two weeks ago.

He said the money was handed over to the Lankan Consulate in Saudi Arabia to be given to the families through the Foreign Ministry in Colombo, but nothing had happened.

He blamed the delay on the Foreign Ministry in Colombo. “The Foreign Office has done very little and now they are even holding on to the wages of distraught families who are in dire straits.”

Wijeymuni Elmo Annesley Soysa Mareena Zoysa

Foreign Office officials said the money was held up in the Mission at Jeddah and it should arrive within the next week or 10 days. “There is very little we can do from this end”, one official said and added that the sea farers were in good health.

Mr. Palitha Athukorale of the National Union of Seafarers (NUSS) hit out at the Foreign Ministry for the delay in releasing the monies to the families. “Those men are suffering in captivity with no signs of an early release. But red tape at Foreign office is delaying payment of wages” he added.

He added that the NUSS had done everything possible towards settling the issue, but there was near zero co-operation from the Foreign Office. “The Somali pirates are an adamant crowd and there will be no release without the ransom demand being met. It is the insurance company who must come up with the ransom. The insurance cover on maritime traffic includes hijacking so they are obliged to pay up”, Mr. Athukorale pointed out.

The MT Al Nisr Al Saudi was grabbed by pirates off the Gulf of Aden nearly three weeks ago and taken to the pirate stronghold of Garad on the Somalian coast.

In a related development the Panama flagged MV Salkar was also commandeered by Somali pirates on Wednesday along with 23 crew members who include 20 Sri Lankans.

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