“We only had one meal a day and that too was mainly bread. When Minister Mangala Samaraweera was talking to me on the phone, the pirates had their guns pointed at our heads. The scariest part though was knowing that these pirates were not very experienced in handling the guns. But, the Minister assured us that America was mediating in getting us released. The media too gave us huge support and we are very grateful to the President and the government for all that was done for us. What the hijackers wanted was to get rid of the boats around our ship. We are relieved that we were finally saved,” he said.
Experience of the crew:
According to the ship’s Engineer Jayantha Kalubovila, after the hijacked oil tanker was rescued and it entered the port of Bosaso, a reception was organised to welcome the rescued crew and their rescuers.
He said this during a special interview with the BBC Sinhala service.
The Somali anti-piracy unit had deployed 35 Commandos and five boats over three days for the rescue operation. These units had circled the hijacked the ship and attacked the pirates over three days enabling the rescue of the crew.
Although the hijackers had caused mental grief to the crew, they were not subject to bodily harm.
The crew members said the moment they knew they were under attack by the pirates, the crew had immediately notified the international organisations and this, they believe enabled them to be rescued without harm.
Hijackers too away their equipment:
“At the last minutes the pirates tried to shoot us and flee, but fortunately that did not happen. They took all our equipment but they did not harm us,” he said.
According to Kalubovila, the hijackers had taken their mobiles and lap tops but had left one telephone line open.
“But, they did not disconnect that line because they used that line to get rid of the other boats and stuff. However, without their knowledge we contacted the minister by speaking in our language,” he said.
The Somali anti-piracy special task force used their weapons cleverly in order to rescue the hostages.
“Ours was an oil tanker and in the event a bullet fired had hit one of the oil tanks, it could have created an explosion that would have destroyed all of us. However, the Somali special task force conducted the operation in a manner safeguarding the oil tanks as well as those on-board. They fired at the hijackers and brought them down mentally,” he added.
“Eventually the pirates realised that they could not keep up the fight with the Somali task force and knew they would face eventual death and fled,” further added Kalubovila.
Deputy Foreign Minister Harsha de Silva had noted on Facebook the joint operation carried out to rescue the crew of the hijacked oil tanker under the guidance of Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera.
Harsha de Silva had stated that on the instructions of the Foreign Minister, he had directed the Puntland administration and the Somali government.
Meanwhile, addressing a press conference in Colombo Dr. de Silva said being able to rescue the ship and crew is not only a victory for the Sri Lankan government but a diplomatic victory.
He expressed relief that the crew were rescued without any bloodshed or harm to them.
Faith of the President:
From the time of the abduction, the President and Prime Minister had been constantly working with the Foreign Ministry and inquiring about the welfare of the crew.
The President also expressed confidence in the ability of the Foreign Minister and his team in ensuring the safety and freedom of the captive crew.
During the gun battle, Kalubovila had contacted the Foreign Minister over the telephone and urged him to get the Somali government forces to seize firing as there was a great danger of the oil tanks being hit, which would have destroyed the whole ship.
Having assured Kalubovila that all measures will be taken to ensure the safety of the crew, Foreign Minister Samaraweera had convened a meeting with Deputy Minister Harsha de Silva, Secretary Esala Weerakoon, Director General of the Consular Division Ganagamaarachchi, Head of the United Nations Coordinating Division Maheshini Kolonne, and commenced a special operation.
The Foreign Minister had immediately contacted the SL High Commissioner in Somalia and instructed him to contact the Somali Foreign Minister and appeal to him to stop the firing.
Having being informed that the firing was being carried out by the State forces, Deputy Minister de Silva had commenced discussions with the State government officials.
Mediation of the American Ambassador
Meanwhile, the Deputy Foreign Minister had contacted the American Ambassador while Kolonne had contacted the UN officials and European Union officials and sough assistance to resolve this hostage issue.
The special operation conducted by the Foreign Ministry team had been officially concluded around 10 p.m upon being officially informed by the American Ambassador that the operation was successful and the crew had been safely rescued.
The Deputy Finance Minister had then informed the President and the Foreign Minister of the successful rescue operation.