"On behalf of PT Samudera Indonesia, we hereby state that the 20 Indonesian crew members of MV Sinar Kurdus have been released by the Somali pirates," David Batubara, vice president of PT Samudera Indonesia, owner of the cargo ship said here on Sunday.
They were released after a certain amount of the ransom had been agreed to by the hijackers, and PT Samudera Indonesia paid in the small hours of Sunday. Paying ransom was the option rather than launching a military action following calls for priority to be given to the safety of the hostages.
However, PT Samudera Indonesia refused to disclose the amount of the ransom it has paid to the Somali pirates. "This is a matter of the safety of the Indonesian crew in other ships still held hostage by the pirates. Though the ship (MV Sinar Kudus) is an Indonesian cargo ship, we cannot disclose the amount of the ransom we have paid to the pirates," David Batubara said.
He said that there were still other ships with Indonesian crew members and also flying the Indonesian colors, still held hostage by Somali pirates.
"Any information will be very sensitive," David said. He cannot reveal the source of the money nor the mechanism of payment to the pirates. He only stated that the amount of the ransom paid to them did not reach US$4.5 million.
"The amount of the ransom as reported is not accurate as it was much higher than than the sum agreed to with the pirates through telecommunication," David said.
According to a report, the pirates had released the ship after the ransom had been dropped on them from the air. "We received the 4.5 million US dollars ransom in the small hours of Sunday. We have left the ship and Sinar Kudus was set to start sailing," one of the pirates, who told Reuters his name was Geney from a coastal village of El Dhanane.
The Indonesian Defense Forces (TNI) Spokesman Rear Admiral Iskandar Sitompul said the government had earlier decided to combine two options of negotiations and military operations in efforts to free the sailors.
The combination of the two options is in line with a suggestion of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono made in a cabinet meeting on March 18, 2001, two days after the ship was hijacked.
TNI sent a number of military personnel, three ships, one aircraft and a helicopter to carry out the mission. But finally, military attack was resorted to for the sake of hostages` safety. The choice was paying the ransom as demanded by the hijackers. "We only backed it from behind in a very close range," Iskandar said.
He said that TNI did not launch an attack for a number of reasons, among others, based on a suggestion of the Indonesian Commercial Skippers Association. It suggested that the government prioritize negotiations.
"The relatives, wives and children of those held hostage also asked that efforts should be in the form of diplomacy," he added. After all, the position of MV Sinar Kudus which had lowered anchor was in the middle of two other ships from other countries.
A military operation in such a position could lead to the fall of many victims, including those on the ships of other countries, he said. Therefore, the Indonesian side decided to pay the ransom. And as a result, the pirates released them on Sunday.
"The 20 MV Sinar Kudus crew members were released after being held hostage for 46 days. The release was made following negotiations," David said. MV Sinar Kudus was hijacked by the Somali pirates about 512 kilometers north of East Socotra in the Somali waters with a crew of 31, including 20 Indonesians.
"The 20 Indonesian crew members are reported to be in good health and in safety condition. The crew members have fully taken control of the ship," David said.
He said that Sinar Kudus had left the Somali waters at 1.10 pm local time or 5.10 Western Indonesia Time (WIB) on Sunday. It will be escorted by a TNI ship to a place determined by the ship`s owner.
"All (Indonesian crew) have been released. TNI personnel there will escort it to a safer place," Iskandar Sitompul said in a joint press conference with the executives of PT Samudera Indonesia here on Sunday night.
According to the TNI spokesman, the ship needed to be escorted because there were about 15 groups of Somali pirates operating separately in the Somali waters.
"If we do not escort it, the ship faces a risk of being hijacked again," Iskandar said.
The pirates were highly trained and well organized. Each of the groups owned teams with respective tasks, such as to intercept, negotiate and to be responsible for arms.
In the meantime, the Foreign Affairs Ministry through its spokesman Michael Tene expressed a warm welcome to the news about the release of 20 Indonesian sailors on board of MV Sinar Kudus which has been detained by Somali pirates since March 16.
"We are pleased to hear about the release and that the sailors are in a good condition," said the spokesman adding that the Indonesian government always care for the condition of its citizens including the sailors. (*)