Saturday, July 20, 2024

$4.62m ransom came in 2 bags

When the two suitcases wrapped specially for waterproofing were opened on the bridge of MV Jahan Moni, the pirates gave out a cry of joy. Bundles of greenbacks, all in hundred dollar denomination, were stacked inside.
The crew members looked on in awe. Never in their life have they seen so much of money.
The pirates started counting. They sat in groups and checked each bundle. They quickly scanned the notes, just to be sure there was no hoax here. To be sure they were green, new notes. And that they got the exact amount they negotiated for, $4.72 million — $ 4.62 million as ransom and $ 100,000 for fuel to bring the ship home.
Satisfied, they were all smiles. They quickly gave the green signal to the negotiators that the ransom was perfectly in order.
However, Mohammed Shahjahan, Managing Director of SR Shipping and also owner of MV Jahan Moni, said they did not pay any ransom.
“We haven’t paid them [Somali pirates] anything, but I don’t know whether our insurance company did,” he said.
Back in the ship, the crew knew the negotiation was coming to a final stage as a small aeroplane came and hovered over the ship for a couple of times two days ago. It just came and circled over their ship and left.
The spirit on the bridge of the ship lifted.
“They are coming. They will come with money,” said a crew. “We will be free soon.”
But all they could do is keeping their fingers crossed. They were dog tired, more mentally than physically. The continuous stress of one hundred days was too much. Their lives hung on the thin string of “civility” of about 40 rag-tag pirates, most in tattered jeans and T-shirts faded by the sun and salt water. All of them had deadly weapons like salt-rusted AK-47s and rocket launchers.
But now, the end seemed to be in view.
March 13 dawned with a difference. There was a palpable change in the mood of the pirates. They were tense. They were looking out to the sky frequently. A tone of urgency was in their voices. The crew also noticed a pirate skiff floating close to Jahan Moni with a few pirates in it.
Then came the drone of an aeroplane. The same Cessna came and did two low passes over the ship. Suddenly its door opened and out came two boxes with parachutes attached. The boxes dropped on the sea and the pirates scooped them on the skiff.
The boxes, actually suitcases, were hauled up on the ship and taken to the bridge. In presence of the hostages, the lids were lifted and money counted.
A few pirates took out some Somali currency they were carrying and threw them in the air. Who cares about some worthless Somali currency when you have millions in dollars?
There were a lot of talks among the pirates and hours of tension began again. What would they do now? Would they really let them go? Or would they just betray all promises?
Finally, came the golden hour. The leader of the gang came on to the bridge after lunch and told skipper Farid Ahmed, “We are leaving tomorrow morning. We got what we wanted. Once we leave, you too can go. You are free.”
Nothing sounded sweeter to the hostages in the last 100 days.
The night came. It was then the pirates divided the booty among themselves. The crew could hear the excited exchange of words down below on the deck.
“It was an unbelievable night. We could not believe it. Have we really heard them right?” said Rukhsana Gulzar, wife of Chief Engineer Matiul Mawla. “The pirates said they would have to wait the night out because they feared if they left in the dark, other pirate groups might attack them. They had their own enemies.”
It was the longest night for the 26 hostages. Sleep would not visit their tired eyes. Hours would not pass for them. They kept looking at their watches. Finally, a false dawn appeared on the horizon. The dark sea caught the first glint of the sun.
The pirates were also busy. They were collecting their articles. Guns, ammunition and whatever they had.
At 5 in the morning, the pirates came and informed the skipper that they were leaving and asked him to lift the anchor.
“We are going. You also go,” pirate leader Rashid told skipper Farid Ahmed.
Ruhul Amin, the man in charge of the anchor, started the motor and the anchor started rolling in. By that time, the pirates had left the ship. Immediately, the ship started moving.
First, there was a sense of nothingness on the bridge. For a few seconds nobody could say anything. They were all blank. It took time to seep in the reality that they were free, at long last. The hostages started hugging each other. Tears found their way out.
But it was still too much to be true.
“We were happy but at the same time afraid that another group of pirates might attack us,” said Farid.
That fear was finally over two hours later when a British naval ship approached. It supplied them with fuel.
Later, a Kenyan tugboat came with food and water.
The ship was now at full speed. Sailing out of the tiger’s lair. As fast as possible. As far as possible.
Ah freedom! Sweet freedom! Dear freedom!

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