06/25/2011, 00.00
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India releases five Pakistani sailors, arrested “by mistake” along with pirates

by Nirmala Carvalho
Abducted by Somali pirates in December 2010, and later freed by the Indian Navy in March of this year, they were held in custody for three months because Indian and Pakistani authorities did not see the mistake. Housed in a Mumbai police station, now they are “ambassadors of peace” in Pakistan.
Mumbai (AsiaNews) – Five Pakistani sailors, who were mistakenly taken into custody during a raid against Somali pirates, were set free yesterday. The men (pictured) are Aurangzeb Nabi Bakhsh Balloch, 24, his brother Sajjad Ali Balloch, 19, Lal Bakhsh Murid Khan, 20, Farhad Aalam Khan, 24, and Mohammed Umair, 18.

The ordeal for the five Pakistanis, employed on the fishing trawler, the Al-Murtuza, started in December last year when Somali pirates hijacked their vessel and imprisoned all 18 crew members, 6 Pakistanis and 12 Iranians. On 12 March, the Indian Navy finally rescued 70 hostages and detained 120 Somali pirates whom they caught 290 nautical miles from Lakshadweep. However, the five Pakistanis were detained.

The sailors were eventually released thanks to the intervention of eminent Bollywood filmmaker Mahesh Bhatt and the Harmony Foundation, of which Bhatt is the chief patron, which allowed for the misunderstanding to be cleared up. After three months in prison, the five sailors were allowed to go home.

During these three months, neither Indian nor Pakistani authorities paid any attention to the case.

Mumbai’s Yellow Gate police station thus took care of the men at its own expenses.

“Together they followed the Cricket World Cup,” Abraham Mathai, president of the Harmony Foundation, told AsiaNews. “It was a great collective moment.” During the early part of the tournament, India beat Pakistan and ended up winning the cup.

“These Pakistanis will now be ambassadors of Peace,” said Mathai, who is also the vice-chairman of the Maharashtra Minorities Commission (MMC).

“Before this misadventure they had a negative image of India, nurtured by the media. However, the hospitality and generosity of the police officers towards them has changed things. Now, they’ll take home the same goodwill to Pakistani society.”

Mathai also said that he offered to put the Pakistanis on a flight to Karachi via Dubai friday night, Pakistani officials preferred to send them on a Pakistan International Airlines flight.
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