PUTRAJAYA, 30 Sept 2008: Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi today described as God’s “Hari Raya” gift, the release of the two MISC Berhad tankers seized by Somali pirates in the Gulf of Aden in August.
“This is a Hari Raya [Aidilfitri] gift from God to us, especially the families of the crew of MT Bunga Melati 2 and MT Bunga Melati 5,” he told Bernama.
Abdullah said he was grateful for the release of MT Bunga Melati 2 on 29 Sept and the safety of the vessel’s crew. The pirates had released MT Bunga Melati 5 on 28 Sept.
“I am also happy to know that the Royal Malaysia Navy team we sent there has discharged its duties with dedication and good judgement. I extend my appreciation to them for [their effort] to secure the release of both our vessels,” he said.
Abdullah, who is also the defence minister, said Petronas president and MISC chairman Tan Sri Hassan Marican conveyed to him the news of the release of MT Bunga Melati 2 on 29 Sept, soon after he got news of the release.
“However, we decided not to announce the release of MT Bunga Melati 2 until the vessel had entered international waters. The decision was made for security reasons as there have been cases of vessels of other nations being seized again after their release,” he said.
Both the vessels were held by Somali pirates in the Gulf of Aden for more than 40 days.
The Malaysian government sent two warships — KD Lekiu and KD Inderapura — and a patrol vessel, KD Pahang, to escort the return of MISC’s vessels, which were using the pirate-infested waters of the Gulf of Aden.
In KUALA LUMPUR, Hassan said MT Bunga Melati 2 and MT Bunga Melati 5 were on their way back to Malaysia, escorted by the Malaysian warships via Djibouti, eastern Africa.
“We cannot ascertain when the crew will reach [Malaysia] but we hope they will return safely soon,” he said at the MISC headquarters.
MT Bunga Melati 5 with its crew of 41 — 36 Malaysians and five Filipinos — was seized in the Gulf of Aden on 29 Aug while it was on its way from Singapore to Yanbu in Saudi Arabia.
MT Bunga Melati 2 with a crew of 39, 29 of them Malaysians, was seized 10 days earlier in the same waters while sailing from Sumatra, Indonesia to Rotterdam in the Netherlands. A Filipino crew was killed after he was hit by a stray bullet during the seizure of the vessel by the pirates.
Hassan said the rest of the crew were safe and that the body of the dead crew was still on board one of the two vessels.
“We have a medical team comprising a doctor, a medical assistant and a counsellor from the defence ministry and MISC to monitor the condition of the crew,” he said.
Asked how much ransom was paid to the pirates for the release of the two vessels, he said: “I do not want to state the amount. Of [greater] importance is that the negotiations were successful and the crew members have been released.
“I wish to emphasise here that MISC gives priority to the families of the victims and any information on the crew will be conveyed first to the families and not the media,” he said.
He also said all the crew would go on leave for three months as usual before getting back to work as per their schedules.
“We have no plan to pay compensation to the families of all the crew,” he added.
Hassan also told reporters MISC did not plan to change the route of its vessels following the seizure of the two ships.
A change of route would require the vessels to take a longer time to reach their destinations, he said.
“If we change the route to avoid the risky area, our ships will have to sail through the Suez Canal to southern Africa and this will take almost 21 days, which is too long,” he said. He also said the unpredictable weather was another concern. — Bernama