Somali troops free 22 hostages held almost three years

Troops from the Somali region of Puntland on Sunday rescued 22 hostages held by pirates for almost three years after their ship was seized off the Yemeni coast, the authorities said, adding that the men bore signs of torture.

The crew from the Dubai-owned and Panamanian-flagged MV Iceberg were freed after two weeks of fighting and a siege of the vessel off the coast of Somalia, the Puntland authorities said in a statement,

"Puntland government forces conducting a humanitarian rescue operation have safely rescued 22 hostages on board the MV Iceberg 1 vessel," according to the statement from the semi-autonomous northern state.

It said the rescue of the multinational crew came after two weeks of "fighting pirates and laying siege to the vessel".

Government forces first surrounded the vessel on December 10 near the coastal village of Garaad in the Mudug region.

The 4,000 tonne ship was seized in the Gulf of Aden in March 2010 with a crew of 24 people hailing from Ghana, India, Pakistan, the Philippines, Sudan and Yemen.

Puntland authorities gave no indication on Sunday what became of the two other missing crew members.

"After two years and nine months in captivity, the hostages have suffered signs of physical torture and illness," the authorities said. "The hostages are now receiving nutrition and medical care."

Somalia has been ravaged by a relentless conflict since 1991, and a lack of effective central authority has allowed pirate gangs, extremist militia and other armed groups to control mini-fiefdoms.

However, piracy attacks off the coast of Somalia have plummeted to a three-year low thanks to beefed up naval patrols and armed security aboard ships in the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean.

But while the pirates have lost ground, the International Maritime Bureau warned in October that Somalia’s waters remain extremely high-risk.

Copyright © 2012 AFP