A group of 22 South Asian and Egyptian men held captive by Somali pirates for nearly a year received an emotional welcome in this southern port city Thursday after payment of a $2.1 million ransom secured their release.
Relatives burst into tears as they greeted the freed merchant navy personnel from the MV Suez ship. Onlookers showered them with rose petals.
The crew included 11 Egyptians, six Indians, four Pakistanis and one Sri Lankan. The captain of the ship was Wasee Ahmed, a Pakistani whose 11-year-old daughter, Laila, hugged him eagerly as both wept.
"The support of the whole nation helped us," the captain said.
The Ansar Burney Trust, a Pakistani organization that is trying to eliminate human trafficking, handled negotiations with the pirates. It was aided by the Muttahida Qaumi Movement, a powerful political party in Karachi.
No other government was involved in the negotiations, said Sarim Burney, an official with the trust and brother of Ansar Burney, a well-known human rights activist in Pakistan.
The pirates demanded $30 million at one point. The ransom money was raised through private donations from Pakistanis and paid through a shipping company whose name is being kept confidential, according to Sarim Burney.
The Indians, Egyptians and Sri Lankan were expected to leave later Thursday for their respective countries, said Ishratul Ebad, the governor of Sindh province in southern Pakistan.
Somali pirates are holding hijacked hostages and ships for longer periods as negotiations for increasingly higher ransoms drag out. The average ransom paid for a ship and crew is now nearly $5 million. Pirates currently hold about 26 ships and 600 crew.
Somalia hasn't had a functioning government since 1991, allowing piracy to flourish off the Horn of Africa nation. International militaries patrol the region, particularly near the Gulf of Aden, but pirates now attack hundreds of miles off East Africa, an area that is too big to effectively patrol.