Govt negotiating release of sailors held hostage by Somalian Pirates

Jakarta (ANTARA News) - The Indonesian government is negotiating the release of 22 Indonesian sailors and their ship taken hostage by Somalian pirates last March 16.

Its chief minister for political, security and legal affairs, Djoko Suyanto, told newsmen here on Monday the government had taken steps soon after receiving information about the hijacking of the "MV Sinar Kudus" belonging to PT Samudera Indonesia for their release with the focus being put on their safety.

"Soon after receiving reports about the hijacking the government has taken efforts to handle it well. The President presided over the meeting, attended by the ministers concerned including the coordinating minister for political, security and legal affairs, the foreign minister, the chief of the National Intelligence Agency and the police," he said.

The conclusion of the meeting was the government would keep communicating with the owner of the ship and monitoring the conditions of the crew.

"We last communicated with the owner of the ship just two days ago, to discuss negotiation process. The ship owner has promised to meet the demand of the pirates but it still needs clarity regarding the contact person and process of delivery as well as safety guarantee for the crew," he said.

He admitted the negotiations could not be limited by time or a deadline due to dynamics of the negotiations with all factors affecting them including psychological conditions of the pirates.

"From the beginning we have seen the dynamics of the negotiations with their initial ransom demand at US$9 million declining to US$2.5 million and then rising again to US$6 million and down again at US$3.5 million. The dynamics is continuing, communication is continuing to later reach an agreement. That is the first option we have taken from the first until yesterday night," he said.

He said the government had also conducted communications with international companies that had experienced a similar case in Somalia to learn about the habit of (pirates) or what had really happened during the hijacking.

"Crew that have ever experienced a hijacking are invited to tell what they have experienced before the family members of the crew now being held hostage. In general they are treated well because pirates want them to remain healthy because they are their bargaining chip. Meetings are continuously held to provide communications," he said.

Regarding other options to save the hostage Djoko said he could not explain about it in detail but the government has prepared various options for it.

"Our priority is saving the crew. What we are prioritizing now is negotiating to find a deal. That is what Chinese and Malaysian shipping companies have also done. It takes time and communications," he said.

Djoko said he understood the worries of the crew`s family members and the government would always seek the best solution to save its citizens.

The hijacked "Sinar Kudus" ship is now located half a mile from Somali`s coastline.