Garowe — The 22 former hostages of the MV Iceberg 1 vessel that was liberated by Puntland government forces on Dec. 23 spoke at a press conference Tuesday in Garowe, the capital of Puntland state in northern Somalia, Garowe Online reports.
Puntland government officials and the 22 former hostages arrived in Garowe by unpaved road from Eyl coastal town Tuesday afternoon. Puntland Maritime Police Force (PMPF) units, the government security force that led the humanitarian rescue operation, escorted the former hostages to Garowe.
Puntland Finance Minister Farah Ali Jama, Puntland Deputy Security Minister Abdijamal Osman Mohamed, Garowe Mayor Abdiaziz Elmi Nur Koor, Puntland Counter-Piracy Director Abdirizak Ahmed, and Puntland presidential staff welcomed the government officials and the former hostages in the outskirts of Garowe.
'Puntland will hunt down the pirates': Deputy Police Commissioner
Speaking at the press conference held at Rugsan Square hotel, PMPF Commander Admiral Abdirizak Dirie Farah, said: "This is our message to the pirates: we will find you and we will fight you anywhere and everywhere."
Continuing, Admiral Dirie said that the "international naval forces flew above us with their helicopters and took pictures but did not help us during the 14-day operation that began on Dec. 10 to safely rescue the 22 hostages. We extend our appreciations to Puntland government forces for the bravery and especially we send our condolences for Abdirizak Abshir Farey, the brave Puntland soldier who died and also the four Puntland soldiers who were wounded during this operation."
Gen. Muhiyadin Ahmed Muse, Puntland Police Force Deputy Commissioner, said: "Puntland Government is committed to fighting terrorism, piracy and all forms of instability. This case is an example of our determination to maintain law and order, on land and at sea. I wish to thank all the soldiers involved in this rescue operation, from Puntland Maritime Police Force, Puntland Police Force, and Puntland Intelligence Agency, and all the security forces of Puntland."
Gen. Muhiyadin Ahmed Muse, Puntland Police Force Deputy Commissioner
Continuing, Gen. Muhiyadin said: "The crimes of the pirate criminals involved in this terrible case have been recorded and we will hunt them down. We will never rest until we find those responsible for making the innocent sailors suffer. Their actions are inhuman and they are animals - look at how they tortured this elder man," said Gen. Muhiyadin, pointing to one of the hostages who had his ears cut off.
Abdirizak Ahmed, Puntland's counter-piracy director, said that the 22 former hostages include: eight from Yemen, five from India, four from Ghana, two from Pakistan, two from Sudan, and one from Philippines.
The former hostages speak
The captain of MV Iceberg 1, Ali Salah, recounted the horrors and described the details of surviving a 33-month ordeal since the vessel's hijacking by Somali pirates on March 29, 2010. Captain Ali said: "We have suffered much as hostages. We thank Puntland for helping us when no one else came to help us."
Jewel Ayamble, the MV Iceberg's Ghanaian electrician, said: "We had a different idea of Somali people because of what the pirates did to us. But today this changes the wrong perception we had about the Somali people. We have received welcome and hospitality. Soldiers were wounded and some died to save us. We thank the Puntland Government and PMPF for rescuing us. PMPF should be rewarded for its work."
Continuing, the electrician said: "We tried hard to contact the United Nations and anyone that would help us over the years. But most efforts failed within the first year. We thank God for sending angels in the form of PMPF to save us."
Speaking about the pirates, he said: "They were horrible people. They beat us continually. Our captain described their crimes in his comments. In one case, they refused to give us food and water for three days while they made us work hard. In another case, they hanged our captain by one leg. All of us have the marks of beatings on our backs."
The MV Iceberg 1 rescue operation is the single most successful operation to safely rescue a large number of hostages held by Somali pirates on a hijacked vessel since Somali piracy spiked in 2006.