Somali pirates release Bangladesh ship, crew following reports of ransom payment

The owner of MV Abdullah did not discuss a potential payment when commenting on crew’s release.
Reyad Hossain
Somali pirates release Bangladesh ship, crew following reports of ransom payment Shahriar Jahan Rahat (right), deputy managing director of ship owner KSRM, speaks to reporters in Chittagong, Bangladesh, after Somali pirates released the MV Abdullah and its crew of 23, April 14, 2024.
Minhaz Uddin/BenarNews

Twenty-three Bangladeshi crew members were sailing for the United Arab Emirates on Sunday after Somali pirates freed them, with the month-long hostage crisis on their hijacked ship ending as bags of ransom money were reportedly air dropped to secure their release.  

While the owner of the MV Abdullah, a cargo ship, and government officials did not release details about what led to the crew’s freedom, the company indicated there had been ransom negotiations, while several sources said a ransom had been paid. 

“I will not discuss about ransom as I have an agreement about the confidentiality of ransom. So I will not, sorry,” Meherul Karim, chief executive officer of SR Shipping, the ship’s owner, said during a news conference in Chittagong on Sunday. 

During “the rescue process,” he said, “we followed the American rules and followed the rules of the U.K. and Somalia. Finally, we obeyed the rules of Kenya. ... I repeat we have followed the agreements.”

Somali media and the Reuters news agency reported that pirates released the ship and its crew in the Indian Ocean off Somalia after receiving U.S. $5 million.

“The money was brought to us two nights ago as usual ... we checked whether the money was fake or not. Then we divided the money into groups and left, avoiding the government forces,” a man identified as pirate Abdirashiid Yusuf told Reuters.

GaroweOnline, a news site based in the capital of Puntland, a self-governing region in northern Somalia, reported on Sunday that at least eight of the 65 suspected hijackers had been arrested. It based the report on a high-ranking Puntland police officer who asked to remain anonymous.

Meanwhile, a family member of a freed sailor who asked not to be identified said three bags of money were dropped near the MV Abdullah from an aircraft before all the hostages were freed. 

“After receiving the bags from the sea and confirming the amount they [pirates] released the sailors,” the family member told BenarNews. “Before that, the pirates had lined up all the sailors and kept guns behind their heads because the aircraft that was circling could have been a threat.”

“The sailors raised their hands to make sure they would be safe,” the family member said.

The pirates seized the Bangladesh-flagged bulk carrier on March 12 in Indian Ocean waters as it was transporting 58,000 tons of coal from Maputo port in Mozambique to Al Hamriya, a port in the United Arab Emirates.

The first contact between the pirates and the ship’s owner occurred on March 20, KSRM spokesman Mizanul Islam had said. The MV Abdullah belongs to the S.R. Shipping Line, which is owned by Bangladesh’s KSRM Group. 

Bangladesh crew members being held hostage aboard the MV Abdullah near Somalia pose for a photo as they gather to offer Eid prayers, April 10, 2024. [Courtesy victims’ families]

On Sunday, Karim said the MV Abdullah and its crew had begun sailing to the UAW where it was expected to arrive by April 20. He said a tracking device on the ship allowed the company to follow its movements.

“Before leaving the ship, the pirates sent us the video of all 23 sailors separately as per our demand so that we could confirm their condition,” Karim said. “Today [Sunday] around 3 a.m., the captain of the ship contacted me. There were 65 [pirates] on the ship but they left on nine boats.” 

Khalid Mahmud Chowdhury, state minister for shipping, said he did not have information about a potential payment.

“Many are showing pictures [of ransom bags], we do not know anything about it. It was possible to free the sailors only through extensive international pressure and compromise,” he said. 

“The Indian Navy, the European [Union maritime authorities] and even the Somali Police have helped us in this regard.”

‘Today seems like our Eid day’

On April 10, the crew sent a photograph along with Eid al-Fitr greetings to their families from the ship. To mark the occasion – the most important holiday on the Islamic calendar – they dressed up and posed for the photo on the ship’s deck where they performed Eid prayers.

In a four-minute audio message to his brother, Md. Atik Ullah Khan, the ship’s chief officer, said he expected to be released. 

“This hostage situation will end soon with a sincere and swift effort to negotiate a ransom with the pirates” by the government and the ship’s owners, Atik said he in the message shared with BenarNews.

State minister Mahmud said officials had hoped the crew would be released by Eid, but instead they were freed as Bangladesh celebrates the Bengali new year on Sunday.

“Not only their relatives, but the entire country is happy now,” he said.

Jannatul Ferdous, the wife of crewman Noor Udin, celebrated his release.

“We did not have the joy of Eid on the day of Eid. Today seems like our Eid day,” she told BenarNews.

“All of them, including my husband, wept with joy after they were released,” she said. “They are not with us yet, but now I feel relieved.”

She said her husband and the others had been intimidated and held at gunpoint but were not physically abused.

Jahanara Akhter, the wife of crewman Mosharraf Hossain Shakil, said she got a call at 4 a.m. She played a message she received from her husband for BenarNews.

“No problem, don’t stress,” he said.

Shakil’s brother Abu Bakar Siddique also spoke to BenarNews.

“I feel good now, I am relieved of mental pressure,” he said.

The hijacking was not KSRM’s first.

In December 2010, Somali pirates seized the MV Jahan Moni, another ship owned by SR Shipping, and released the crew after more than three months. The Business Standard reported that the crew members were released after a multi-million-dollar ransom was paid. 

Waters off the Horn of Africa are notorious for piracy targeting international shipping. Al-Shabaab, the Islamic militant group in Somalia, is known for carrying out such attacks.


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