MUSCAT: Two Indian sailors, who were caught in the crossfire during a rescue operation led by the Royal Navy of Oman (RNO) to free a hijacked Indian ship, and a Somali pirate, succumbed to their injuries, on Wednesday. The rescue operation was carried out in the wee hours of Tuesday.
RNO vessel Musandam was engaged in the rescue operation. The pirates are under the custody of the Coast Guards.
There were 12 Indian sailors aboard the hijacked ship. After the rescue operation, RNO officials gave first aid to the injured and shifted them to Sur Referral Hospital. The rescued ship has been docked at the Sur harbour.
The deceased were identified as Akbarali Mamad Sanghar, the captain of the hijacked ship, and Jakku Suleiman Sandi Batti, a sailor. All the 12 sailors hail from the western Indian state of Gujarat.
“The condition of the sailor Sulaiman Assam Wadinad Barna is still quite critical and the other seven, who suffered minor injuries, are undergoing treatment,” hospital sources told Times of Oman.
“Among the 12, two escaped unhurt,” the hospital sources added. The two are Gani Abdul Kakal and Umar Illyas Sanghar.
According to an official statement from the Ministry of Defence, Indian ship Tiba-2 Halima, carrying 4,000 goats, was hijacked by Somali pirates off Ras Al Hadd on September 1.
The pirates were planning to use the vessel as a mother ship to launch attacks on ships.
“It is for the first time we came under pirates attack,” an injured sailor who is undergoing treatment, told Times of Oman from the hospital bed.
“We have carried goods several times through this shipping line. This time we were heading to Salalah from Somalia with goats. When the RNO vessel came to our rescue, the pirates used us as human shields. We were caught in the crossfire,” he said.
After receiving a tip-off, the RNO vessel sailed to the area. Efforts by navy men to negotiate with the pirates to free the ship and the hostages failed. Thereafter, the naval vessel fired at the boom ship to incapacitate the hijacked vessel. The pirates immediately surrendered.
Last week, RNO foiled an attempt by Somali pirates to hijack a Liberian-flagged vessel some 34 nautical miles southwest off the country’s main container transshipment hub at Salalah.
Following that successful seizure, the navy has stepped up its patrols off its southern and southeastern seaboard.
According to statistics from the International Maritime Bureau’s Piracy Recording Centre, more than 370 people are currently being held hostage in pirate strongholds along the Somali coastline.