US group worked to free hostages

Updated: 2016-10-26 10:43

By Paul Welitzkin in New York(China Daily USA)

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Oceans Beyond Piracy made 2-year effort to free 26 hostages, including 10 Chinese, off Africa

As family and friends welcome home 26 hostages including 10 Chinese sailors that were freed by pirates in Somalia, the organization that played a key role in securing their release said it believes other hostages are still being held by pirates.

John Steed, the Horn of Africa director for Oceans Beyond Piracy (OBP), worked for nearly two years to gain the release of the 26 hostages, said Jon Huggins, OBP director.

"We have not paid a ransom," Huggins said on Tuesday. "John worked very hard to find out where the hostages were held and in trying to convince whoever was holding them that there wasn't a monetary value in keeping the hostages."

The crew of the Naham 3 was taken captive when their Omani-flagged vessel was seized in 2012 south of the Seychelles. In addition to the 10 Chinese sailors - nine from the mainland and one from Taiwan - the other released hostages were from Cambodia, Indonesia, the Philippines and Vietnam.

US group worked to free hostages

They were the last of the sailors taken hostage at the height of the Somali piracy, although several hostages taken later still remain.

"We think there are between 13 and 15 hostages still being held by pirates," said Huggins.

Oceans Beyond Piracy was formed in 2010 at the peak of the maritime piracy attacks. Huggins said OBP continues to watch three hotspots in the world.

One is the waters off of the Horn of Africa which drew international attention after a series of attacks in the region from 2008 until 2010. "We have seen a significant drop in the number of attacks there since 2012," said Huggins.

He cited better cooperation between navies, shipping companies and a rule-of-law approach that has seen the conviction of over 1000 Somali pirates for the decline.

The other areas that still experience pirate activity includes the Gulf of Guinea in West Africa, and waters near the Philippines and Bangladesh, Huggins said.

OBP is part of One Earth Future, a privately funded non-profit foundation that works with communities to address the root causes of conflict and pave the way to a more peaceful world. It was founded in 2007 by entrepreneur Marcel Arsenault and his wife, Cynda Collins Arsenault. Both organizations are based in Broomfield, Colorado.

One Earth Future (OEF) said the newly freed hostages will likely face a stressful recovery.

"Time spent as a hostage is extremely stressful, and almost every hostage will have some lingering stress. The OEF Research shows that piracy can leave lasting impacts on seafarers and their families. But seafarers are a psychologically resilient group and the research suggests that the large majority of hostages, about 75 percent, will recover with no lasting impact," said Dr. Conor Seyle, director of OEF Research.

Seyle said recovery for hostages can be maximized through good training, planning and communication before an attack, support for families while seafarers are hostages and a process of reintegration and formal mental health support for hostages and their families once they have returned.

(China Daily USA 10/26/2016 page2)