Seventeen Indian sailors, held captive by Somali pirates for more than a year, were freed Friday following intense diplomatic negotiations.
The Indian men were among 22 crew members aboard the Panama-flag MT Royal Grace, a chemical tanker captured by pirates March 2, 2012, off the coast of Oman.
“The vessel is presently proceeding towards the Omani coast. The crew members are likely to disembark at Salalah Port from where they would be repatriated to India,” Indian officials said.
The Royal Grace’s crew included three Nigerians, one Pakistani and one Bangladeshi, but there is no information on the release of these men.
The 1984-built tanker had been on its way from Sharjah to Nigeria when the attack took place approximately 100 nautical miles northeast of Salalah. The ship, reportedly owned by a Nigerian company called Snow Whyte Energy, is managed United Arab Emirates-based Oyster Cargo and Shipping LLC.
Officials did not give any other details about the release of Indian men, including whether a ransom was paid, but media reports said the pirates haddemanded a ransom of $1.7 million.
The release comes after Prime Minister Manmohan Singh issued a statement in Parliament that the government was making all possible efforts, including seeking intervention with Somalian authorities, to secure the safe return of Indian sailors aboard the hijacked ship.