Hostage crisis:Govt says saving lives of Indians prime concern

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New Delhi, Apr 18: Saving the lives of Indians held hostage by Somali pirates would be the guiding concern of the government when it decides on taking appropriate action, Overseas Indian Affairs Minister Vayalar Ravi said today (April 18).

"Our prime interest is to save the lives of every Indian sailor. That is the guiding concern for the government to protect the lives of every Indian held hostage", he told reporters here.

He was confident that the government "will take the correct decision and immediate action".

Ravi said the pirates were "using our people as hostages and trying to bargain with us" for the release of the "good number of their people in our custody".

He said the Indian Navy had gone into action and the Ministries of External Affairs and Home were dealing with the matter.

The Navy has said it would continue its ongoing operation to prevent pirate attacks and said that the release of some of the Indians held hostage has no bearing on the fate of the arrested Somali pirates here.

"We will continue our ongoing anti-pirates operation to ensure smooth traffic in the sea. No orders have been issued to reduce patrolling in Indian waters following reported demand made by the pirates in Somalia calling for swapping of Indian hostages with arrested pirates," a navy spokesman said in Mumbai yesterday.

Somalian pirates, who took a multi-million dollar ransom from MT Asphalt Venture, released eight of the 15 Indian crew members last week after holding them hostage for over six months.

As per negotiations reportedly held between the shipping company and the pirates, the latter were supposed to release all the Indian crew members on the hijacked ship.

But the Somali pirates now want Indian authorities to release all their colleagues placed under arrest in Mumbai before freeing the remaining Indians.

The asphalt/bitumen tanker was hijacked by pirates on its way to South Africa from Kenya, southeast of Dar es Salaam in Tanzania on September 28, 2010.

Indian warships have been escorting merchant vessels in the Indian Ocean as part of international anti-piracy efforts and the Navy and Coast Guard have seized around 120 pirates, mostly Somali nationals, over the past few months.

Last month, the Indian navy captured 61 pirates when they attacked a naval ship. Pirates currently hold some 30 ships and more than 600 hostages, reports say.

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