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Georgian sailors to be freed by the end of February?

By Mzia Kupunia
Tuesday, February 15
15 Georgian sailors, kidnapped by Somali pirates more than 5 months ago, will be freed by the end of February, Voice of America Georgian service reported, citing the father of one of the kidnapped sailors as a source. According to VOA, confidential negotiations between the Georgian government and the Greek owners of the ship have been finalised. Voice of America reported that the company that owns the ship is ready to pay USD 150,000, while the Georgian side has agreed to pay USD 750,000 to free the hostages.

The ship sailing under the Maltese flag with 18 sailors on board – 15 Georgians and 3 Turkish, was kidnapped by Somali pirates on September 8, 2010 in the Straits of Aden. According to the Georgian President’s administration, the pirates demanded a ransom of USD 15 million in return for freeing the sailors and in October, the President’s press speaker, Manana Manjgaladze said, “There are no plans to conduct a special operation to free the kidnapped sailors until all possibilities of dialogue have expired.” Later, the pirates reduced their demanded ransom to USD 1 million, according to media reports.

The Georgian Foreign Ministry has denied having any additional information about the kidnapped Georgian sailors. Deputy Foreign Minister Nino Kalandadze said on Monday that the Georgian side is not able to get involved in official negotiations, as there is no representation of Georgia in Somali. “We only have information that the sailors’ family members are trying to connect with them,” she noted. “We are completing our duties as much as we can, however our capacities are limited in this case,” the Deputy Minister added. On January 10 the Georgian Foreign Ministry said Tbilisi “has neither the possibility, nor the desire to be involved in any negotiations with the terrorists.” “We are talking with the owners of the ship and their lawyers,” Kalandadze told journalists.

Earlier in January the families of the kidnapped Georgian sailors said the pirates were treating the hostages “badly.” Members of the sailors’ families informed journalists that the situation aboard the ship was becoming “critical” as the sailors were not given food or water and were “severely” beaten every evening. However, speaking to Newsgeorgia news agency, Sergo Devadze, father of one of the kidnapped sailors, said on Monday that the situation has improved. “Several days ago we had telephone contact with the hostages and they informed us that the pirates’ attitude towards them has slightly improved,” Devadze noted.

There are also currently two other Georgian sailors being held hostage by Somali pirates. Oleg Nodia was kidnapped on November 11, 2010 together with 30 other sailors from Tunisia, the Philippines, Russia, Croatia and Morocco when the Somali pirates seized the Tunisian ship Hannibal 2. Another Georgian sailor was kidnapped in the Arabian Sea last week when Somali pirates kidnapped a Greek-flagged tanker, which according to foreign media outlets, apart from the Georgian, the crew of the tanker consisted of 17 Filipino and 7 Greek sailors.