Freed Seychelles sailors home after Somali ordeal

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Three sailors from the Seychelles seized by Somali pirates in March arrived home yesterday but declined to comment on their ordeal.
The sailors were freed this month only to be arrested by the authorities in the semi-autonomous Somali region of Puntland and accused of being part of an illegal prisoner swap, Reuters reports.
Puntland accused Seychelles of exchanging 23 suspect pirates caught in the Indian Ocean archipelago’s waters for its three citizens a charge the government denied. Puntland finally said last week it planned to release the sailors.
The three, Conrad Andre, Gilbert Victor and Robin Samson, looked tired and frightened when they were met at the airport by Transport Minister Joel Morgan, who heads the Seychelles’ anti-piracy task force.
The sailors declined to comment on the hijacking or their seven months in captivity.
They said they would prefer to talk to the authorities for security reasons, because the pirates were closer to the Seychelles than previously thought.
Maritime security groups warned in May of a surge in the number of pirate “mother ships” operating in the Seychelles archipelago’s expansive territorial waters.
The US military said last month it would be deploying unmanned reconnaissance aircraft in the skies above the Seychelles to bolster anti-piracy efforts.
“We know a lot of what (the sailors) are saying but I would like to say that we have stepped up surveillance together with our international partners,” said Morgan.
“The US air force cargo plane behind you, for example, has just off-loaded a lot of equipment to be used in ensuring our waters are safe,” he told reporters at the airport.
Pirate attacks worldwide more than doubled to 240 during the first half of 2009, driven by a surge in hijackings in the waters off the Horn of Africa, according to an International Maritime Bureau’s Piracy Reporting Centre report in July.
While there has been a relative lull in Indian Ocean waters in the past few months because of monsoon rains, analysts fear the number of pirate attacks will mount again soon.

Pic: Seychelles Island