For over seven months now, the families of over 50 Indian sailors being held captive by pirates have been pressing the government to help them.
International authorities are cracking down on pirates
It was meant to be a candle light march in the capital New Delhi by the family members of abducted Indian sailors. But they could not hold back and resorted to slogan-shouting.
With their loved ones still in captivity, some for as long as a year, they decided to pressurize the government to act. They met with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, opposition leaders and ministers to act and obtain the release of the sailors.
Suspected Somali pirates sit with their faces covered with cloth sacks on the deck of an Indian Coast Guard vessel
Hostages on the MV Suez
Sampa Gullia is the face of this protest campaign. Her husband, Ravinder, a third officer, has been held hostage aboard the MV Suez for over six months. She is confident that he will be released at some point.
"Of course, India has not died yet. Maybe the ministers have lost their hearts, maybe something is wrong with them. But nothing is wrong with the public. They are on my part (with me). The merchant navy association Chandigarh is with me. And I know the next will be Mumbai, Chennai, and I will take it to the end."
On its part, the government said it was doing everything possible to free the hostages from captivity. Foreign minister S M Krishna detailed some of the steps: "our embassy in Cairo and the consulate general in Dubai have been in touch with the respective Egyptian and UAE based owners of the ships."
Families of Indian captives call out to the Indian government for help
Earlier this week, pirates released 11 Indians among the crew of cargo vessel RAK Afrikana, thereby bringing down the number of Indian sailors in captivity.
However, former navy chief Arun Prakash advocates an operation by the Indian navy as a possible alternative to rescue the sailors. He said, "On the high seas it is a realistic option and it is an option that we must increasingly adopt. Our ships are well equipped; they are as good as any ship in the world. They carry helicopters and have special forces on board. But if you are talking of hostages who are ashore, undertaking such an operation will be hazardous and inadvisable."
Somali piracy has evolved over the years to an international criminal organization. International agencies say these pirates currently hold more than 30 ships and more than 700 hostages.
The Gulf of Aden has become one of the world's most dangerous places for sailors
A recent study conducted by the One Earth Future Foundation estimates the total annual cost of maritime hijackings to be somewhere between $7 and $12 billion. Besides, over 40 percent of the world’s seaborne oil supply passing through the Gulf of Aden and the Arabian Sea is at risk from Somali pirates.
S. B Agnihotri, the director general of shipping pointed out that negotiations were on: "We hope that some of the persuasion and some of the pressure will work. The road map and the modus operandi we don’t reveal. We have to remain tight-lipped about it."
The pirates are reportedly demanding millions of dollars in ransom. And some of the affected families in India have even begun to raise the money by pledging their farmland. The big question is how long they have to wait.
Author: Murali Krishnan
Editor: Sarah Berning