Five Filipino fishermen who were released after being held hostage by Somali pirates for nearly five years have reunited with their families.
The seafarers arrived at the airport in the Philippine capital Manila on Friday.
“I am so happy. This is what I had been praying for every night,” said Arnel Balbero, 33, as he was embraced by his four siblings at the airport.
“Just to be with my family, even if we have nothing, even if we have only little to eat, I am already happy,” he said.
His sister, Lilia, trembled at the sight of her brother. “It’s like a miracle. We never lost hope he would be freed,” she said.
The Filipinos were among 26 freed hostages from Cambodia, China, Taiwan, Indonesia and Vietnam who were freed on October 22. The 26 hostages plus three others made up the crew of Naham 3, which was seized south of the Seychelles in March 2012.
The captain of their Omani-flagged but Taiwanese-owned vessel died during the hijacking and two other crew members succumbed to illness in captivity.
Balbero’s cousin and fellow ex-hostage, Elmer, said the Somali pirates had cared little about the health of their captives.
“We asked the pirates for medicine but they did not give us any. Instead they said, ‘Where is your money?'” said Elmer.
The captives also said they suffered beatings at the hands of the pirates.
“In our first week, they called it our introduction. They used bamboo to beat us,” Arnel said.
To survive, the Filipinos did chores for their captors, washing their clothes and even their weapons.
“We took it as a chance to also wash. We couldn’t take a bath often because they only gave us a liter of water each day,” Arnel said.
Hugging his two teenage daughters, Elmer said it was thoughts of seeing his family again that kept him going during his captivity.
Taiwan’s Foreign Ministry said the men were freed after a ransom was paid by the ship’s owner as well as groups contracted to negotiate with the pirates, Taiwanese media reported.
John Steed, who works with the Hostage Support Partnership, said the local community and tribal elders were involved in the “difficult situation.”
“These are poor fishermen. The ship had no value, they had no insurance, and of course governments don’t want to be involved in these sort of negotiations either,” he said.
Sailors who had been held hostage by pirates for more than four years stand for a group photograph as they prepare to board an airplane after being released in Galkayo, Somalia, October 23, 2016. (Photo by AP)
The sailors are believed to be among the last remaining captives seized by Somali pirates during the surge in hostage-taking in the mid-2000s.
Piracy off the coast of Somalia has reduced significantly in recent years due to stronger international naval presence.