BeyondHeadlines Special Correspondent
New Delhi: Concern was voiced in the Lok Sabha today over the plight of 79 Indian sailors currently in the custody of Somali pirates.
The deadline for the execution of eight of these 79 sailors expires today. Leader of the Opposition Sushma Swaraj raised the issue during Zero Hour, following which External Affairs Minister S M Krishna assured the House that the government was doing everything possible for their release.
“Their safe and early release is our highest priority … We are doing all that we can. We are in touch with the ship owners. We are depending upon ship owners, as is done in most cases, to negotiate with the pirates,” he said.
Not satisfied with the response, Swaraj led a walkout of BJP, Shiv Sena and Akali Dal members charging the government with showing “helplessness” in the matter.
Krishna said there was a transitional government in Somalia and “we have taken up the issue with the President of that government and he has assured us all help.”
Reports said the fate of Indian sailors on board MV Suez hung in balance as the final deadline set by the Somali pirates expires today.
The Somali pirates had hijacked an Egyptian cargo ship in the Gulf of Aden on August 2, 2010. Besides the six Indians, the ship’s crew includes four Pakistanis, four Sri Lankans and 11 Egyptians.
Krishna said some of the family members of the abducted sailors have also met him and he has assured them of all possible help from the ministry.
According to the Directorate General of Shipping, as many as 215 Indian crewmembers were among those whose ships were hijacked and 136 of them have so far been released. “At present, there are 79 Indian crewmembers on seven ships that are in the custody of Somali pirates,” he said.
The minister said that he has held talks with the Egyptian ambassador in New Delhi, who has promised all assistance for safe and quick release of the hostages. The Indian envoys in Egypt and Dubai were also making efforts in this regard.
At the outset, he said the issue of piracy was a “very complicated international problem. Worldwide hundreds of ships with thousands of crew members have been hijacked by Somali pirates.
Raising the matter, Swaraj said, “When one US national is kidnapped, the US moves heaven and earth to secure his release …. But the Indian government is not taking seriously the issue of Indian sailors being taken hostage.”
Earlier, she had an argument with Parliamentary Affairs Minister P K Bansal as she wanted immediate response from Krishna, who was not in the House. But, Krishna soon returned and responded.