June 14, 2009 / 10:48 AM / 10 years ago

NATO warship rescues Indian sailors freed by pirates

ON BOARD NRP CORTE-REAL (Reuters) - A NATO warship rescued fourteen Indian sailors off Somalia on Saturday, a day after they were freed by pirates who had beaten them during 10 days of captivity.

The rescued crew of Indian dhow Vishvakalyan sits on top of their cargo of charcoal as they receive assistance from NATO's Portuguese flagship NRP Corte-Real (background) June 13, 2009. REUTERS/Alison Bevege

The pirates released the weakened crew of the dhow Vishvakalyan on Friday after stealing provisions and kit.

“They hit the crew all over, on the head, everywhere,” the Vishvakalyan’s captain, Ismail Abdurehman said.

The pirates took most of the seamen’s belongings including radios, phones, television sets and presents bought for their families. The pirates left only three chickens and the dhow’s cat.

The Portuguese warship NRP Corte-Real gave the dhow food and fuel.

International navies are patrolling the busy shipping lanes off Somalia to try and prevent hijacks that have worried shipping firms, driven up insurance costs and prompted some vessels to avoid the Gulf of Aden.

On Friday night, the pirates shot wildly into the air, shouting “Go, go, go,” at the sailors, said Abdureham.

Dario Precioso, a lieutenant on the NRP Corte-Real said the dhow crew set off for the Yemeni island of Socotra to get help after being released by the pirates.

“But they probably would have died if we hadn’t found them — as they had no supplies,” he said.

The NRP Corte-Real spotted the dhow about 20 nautical miles southeast of Hobyo off Somalia’s coast.

The International Maritime Bureau says more ships have been attacked off Somalia so far in 2009 than in the whole of 2008 — 133 reported attacks compared with 111 in 2008.

But fewer of those attacks have been successful — 30 compared with 42 last year.

Abdurehman said the pirates attacked the Vishvakalyan as it carried a shipment of charcoal from the port of Brava, south of Mogadishu, to Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates on June 3.

The seamen, from Gujarat, India, had been unable to call for help because the pirates broke their VHF radio antenna.

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