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October 20, 2009

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Turkish crew set free after 3 months

A GROUP of Turkish mariners held for three months by Somali pirates said yesterday that they endured hunger, cramped conditions on their anchored ship and constant, nerve-jangling gunplay by their abductors.

Crew members spoke to Turkey's NTV television on board the MV Horizon-1 cargo vessel, which arrived in the Red Sea port of Aqaba in Jordan on its way back to Turkey. The ship was hijacked on July 9 in the Gulf of Aden, near Somalia, and released on October 5 after a ransom payment. The ransom amount was not announced.

"You have to stay in one place for months with people you would not normally have anything to do with. I was treated OK, but it was still a horrible experience," ship officer Aysun Akbay said in an interview with NTV on the deck.

Morning gunplay

"There were restrictions on the ship; for instance you cannot go up on the deck and the bathroom was also an issue. We would hear them testing their guns every day and wake up to the gunshots," said Akbay, the only woman in the 23-member crew.

Somalia has been ravaged by unrest since 1991, and piracy has flourished off its coast, especially in the Gulf of Aden, one of the world's busiest sea lanes. Patrols by international warships have deterred some attacks, but stability within Somalia's borders is seen as the only long-term solution to the scourge.

Pirates have shown some degree of sophistication, using GPS navigation systems and satellite phones to reach shadowy contacts in Europe and the Middle East during ransom talks. Many, however, are ill-disciplined youths with no military background.

Mustafa Senkal, a mariner on the Turkish ship, said he was shot in the leg by a pirate.

"They were playing with their guns all the time. One of them accidentally pulled the trigger and shot me. Boy, did it hurt," Senkal said. "The third officer helped me a lot and kept me under medication."

While at sea a few days before the hijacking, he said, he received the joyous news that his wife had given birth.

Crew members said they had to fish because of dwindling food supplies, could take a shower only every 10 days and often stayed awake all night. In the last days of captivity, they slept in the same area as the pirates.


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