The use of Whatsapp and connections made through American diplomats ensured the safety and release of the eight-member Sri Lankan crew of the hijacked Aris-13, Deputy Foreign Affairs Minister Harsha de Silva said today.
The hijacked vessel and its Sri Lankan crew were released by Somali pirates on March 17 without any ransom payment.
At a media briefing soon after the release came to be confirmed, Dr. de Silva thanked diplomats of various countries, especially the US, naval officers and institutions which supported the Sri Lankan government during time of need.
He said the American Embassy had helped the SL Government get in touch with Puntland President's Chief of Staff Abdinasir Sofe, who in turn had ordered the country’s navy to stop shooting at the ship and move aside to allow discussions between the pirates and the owners of the vessel.
“This is a semi-autonomous region that we have no diplomatic ties with. We were grateful to have come in contact with the President, who had authority over the navy which was shooting in the general direction of the vessel,” Dr. de Silva said.
He said the Puntland Navy was not firing at the ship but at the logistical boats in the vicinity. “We are not sure what prompted them to do so, but we are grateful for the results of the discussions we had with the President's Chief of Staff, Abdinasir Sofe,” Dr. de Silva said.
The ship and its crew were now safely on its way to Bossoa, the commercial capital of Puntland, where the crew would be treated for injuries and sent on their way.
When questioned about when the crew would arrive in the country, he said he was unsure of the crew’s future plans. “We have done everything necessary as a government. It is the decision of the crew and the owners of the vessel as to what they will do now. We will of course intervene if the crew has issues applying for visa’s to return home,” Dr. de Silva said and added that he was kept appraised of the situation on the Whatsapp messenger service. Messages exchanged with the President of Puntland prior to the news briefing ensured the safety and release of the crew.
General Operations Director Dharmendra Weetawa, who was also present at the briefing said, the situation led the Navy to appoint a permanent representative at the Combined Naval Forces Headquarters.
It was they who provided surveillance during the situation and provided updates every three hours, of the situation on-board the vessel. “We have officers stationed there for various reasons, but we have decided to appoint a representative for Sri Lanka as we have the need for it now,” he said.
Naval relations in the area was not fully developed in the area, but the Navy had received necessary backing in the time of need. Rear Admiral Wettawa said the owners of the vessel had not taken the necessary precautions when sailing in such dangerous seas.
Meanwhile, family members of the crew who were also present at the briefing thanked the government and other officials who had done everything in their power to rescue the sailors and ensure their safe return. (Nabeela Hussain)