04/27/2012, 00.00
SRI LANKA
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Six Sri Lankan fishermen held by Somali pirates are rescued

by Melani Manel Perera
All six are Catholic from Negombo. They disappeared six months ago. They were rescued by a Spanish naval vessel, the Infanta Elena, involved in anti-piracy activity with the European Union Naval Forces. Speaking about their government, some of the wives said, "No one helped us."

Negombo (AsiaNews) - Six Sri Lankan fishermen held captive for six months by Somali pirates returned to the country yesterday morning after having being rescued by a Spanish ship a week ago. All of them are Catholic from the fishing village of Negombo, Western province. After meeting their family members at the Katunayake International Airport, they went straight to the St Anthony Catholic Church in Mankuliya to give their 'thanks' to God for saving their lives and bringing back them to the families.

Spanish Navy vessel 'Infanta Elena' spotted Sri Lankan dhow 'Nimesha Duwa' on 19 April and intercepted it 50 miles off the coast of Tanzania, finding on board seven suspected Somali pirates and the six captive Sri Lankan fishermen.

The six Sri Lankan fishermen had left port on 25 September 2011, and were captured by Somali pirates a month later when they entered Somali waters illegally. The pirates demanded US$ 6 million for their release. On several occasions, they called the families by phone threatening to kill their loved ones if the ransom was not paid.

"We were very scared," Santhanam Kamala, 44, wife of one of the fishermen, Perumal. "We could hear shots in the background," she told AsiaNews. "But we didn't know what to do. We are poor people. If we had all that money, none of us would be fishing."

Santhanam Kamala is Tamil.  Together with Wathsala Madhusani, who is Sinhalese and wife of another fisherman, Levan Rodrigo, she prayed "for their release from the start. Every day, we met for an hour prayer, at 7 pm."

"Sometimes, I thought I was going to lose faith," said Wathsala, 23. "But again I thought: No! God will bring them back even after many years."

The families and the Nimesha Duwa owner travelled across the country to prompt the government to act, but "No one helped us."

Now that their husbands are home, "we don't want to think about anything else. We thank God who heard our prayers. We thank the Spanish Navy, which brought them back to us."

The Infanta Elena is part of the European Union Naval Force involved in anti-piracy operation off the coast of Somalia. It had been looking for the Sri Lankan fishing vessel since February 2012.

The srilankan Fisheries Ministry paid Rp 651.000 (about US$ 5000) for fishermen return flight from Tanzania to Sri Lanka, and other Rp 300.000 (about US$ 2.300) for the accomodation in Nairobi of two officials from Sri Lankan High Commission.

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