October 4, 2008 / 1:44 PM / in 10 years

Freed Malaysian crew tell of Somali hijacking drama

KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 4 (Reuters) - Somali pirates who hijacked two Malaysian tankers in the Gulf of Aden threatened to kill their captives but let their Muslim hostages fast and pray to observe the month of Ramadan, the freed crew said on Saturday.

Gunmen from Somalia have seized at least 30 vessels this year and attacked many more in the world’s busiest and most dangerous shipping area connecting Europe to Asia and the Middle East. A Ukrainian ship with military cargo including 33 tanks is being held by Somali pirates off the east African coast.

The pirates had seized the two vessels, the Bunga Melati 2 and the Bunga Melati 5, and 80 crew members in August and released them last month after the vessels’ owner, MISC (MISC.KL), paid an undisclosed amount as ransom.

Crew members, who arrived in Malaysia early on Saturday, recounted an ordeal marked by language barriers, variable treatment by the pirates and the accidental death of a Filipino crew member killed when a bullet ricocheted off a ceiling.

Maheshwaran said the pirates thrust guns at their hostages “many times” but he eventually concluded that the hijackers did not intend to kill them.

“After 12 days being there, I came to the conclusion that intentionally, they are not going to kill any of my crew,” Maheshwaran Muniandy, a captain onboard the Bunga Melati 5, told reporters, adding that they communicated using hand signals.

The pirates were first spotted by two crew who were out jogging who — mistaking them for friendly fishermen — had waved to them, said crew member Nuzaihan Abd Rani. The pirates responded by spraying them with bullets and climbed onboard the ship using an aluminium ladder.

The East African Seafarers Association said the pirates demanded $4.7 million to release the ships and Malaysian newspapers put the ransom at $2 million each. MISC chief executive Shamsul Azhar Abbas declined to disclose the amount. (Reporting by Liau Y-Sing; Editing by Louise Ireland)

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