After being held hostage by Somali pirates for nearly five years, 26 Asian sailors were set free on Sunday, Oct. 23, and arrived at the airport in Nairobi, Kenya, according to Associated Press.
Originally, 29 men were captured, according to CNN. However, the captain of the Taiwanese fishing vessel, Naham 3, was shot dead when the pirates boarded and two other men died from illness during captivity.
According to The New York Times, the recently freed hostages hailed from the Philippines, China, Vietnam, Indonesia and Cambodia. They were taken by the pirates in March 2012 in the Indian Ocean near the Seychelles.
During their time in captivity, the men were not only beaten, but also deprived of food and water. According to CNN, Arnel Balbero was one of the 29 crew members. He spent most of his years living in the Somali bush, near the town of Galkayo.
“You need to eat everything,” Balbero said, according to CNN. “You need to eat to survive.” Balbero took his own advice by eating birds, wild cats and even rats to outsmart his captors.
“They had the mentality of animals,” Balbero said. “When you got sick and asked for medical treatment, they said it’s better to die.”
The New York Times reported that Leslie Edwards, lead negotiator for the sailors’ release, said, “The pirates were uneducated, obstructionist, unmotivated and unrealistic.”
Edwards said that the pirates picked poor fishermen from poor countries, and they were dreaming about huge amounts of ransom money they were never going to get.
John Steed, coordinator of the Hostage Support Partners for the U.S-based organization Oceans Beyond Piracy, made it his mission to free the “forgotten hostages,” who were held hostage the second longest amount of time in history by the Somali pirates, according to The Guardian. Steed said it took 18 months for negotiations.
Pirate representative Bile Hussein said that $1.5 million was paid in ransom for the Naham 3 crew’s release, Associated Press reported.
Piracy became a major threat to international shipping and prompted help from organizations like the United Nations, European Union and North Atlantic Treaty Organization, The Guardian reported. The crisis reached its peak in January 2011 with 736 hostages and 32 boats in the pirates’ possession. In 2012, Somali piracy cost the global economy between $5.7 billion and $6.1 billion.
According to Associated Press, Steed said that no commercial vessel has been successfully attacked since 2012, but the threat of piracy remains.
Steed said there have since been several attacks on fishing boats, and that the pirates still have 10 Iranian hostages, who have been in captivity since 2015, and 3 Kenyan victims, The Guardian reported.