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13 Feb, 2010 05:02

Relatives of kidnapped sailors despair over delays in negotiations

The families of 23 Russian sailors taken hostage by Somali pirates in October last year have taken to the streets of Kaliningrad in despair over stalled negotiations on the release of their loved ones.

The kidnappers have allowed the hostages to call their family once a month for 30 seconds, but the last time they called was in January. The women who gathered Wednesday on the streets of Kaliningrad, Russia’s seaport city and its most western enclave, are desperately concerned by the interruption of communications and the stalled negotiating process.

[Our husbands] don't want to upset us- they say everything's fine,” says Olga Babich, whose husband Sergey Babich is one of the hostages. “But we can hear that's not true… Once I asked about food, my husband answered "it's fine, we have water and macaroni.”

The families were originally promised that their loved ones would return in time for the New Year celebrations.

We were told negotiations had deadlocked following the pirates' request to free their "colleagues" – as they call them – 5 other Somali pirates detained by Russian forces last April,” explained Tamara Gerasimova, wife of Leonid Gerasimov. “We understand this is difficult to do, and now we are seriously thinking about going there ourselves.”

Those conducting the negotiations have said nothing about the pirates' demands or any ransom to be paid. Instead, they stress that the situation should not be rushed.

But the men’s relatives, who have already knocked on many doors, say they cannot wait. They have sent letters to Russia's President, Prime Minister, Minister of Foreign Affairs and even the Patriarch. All they received in response were words of sympathy and encouragement.

The state can help financially, can put pressure on the ship’s owner, but that would raise piracy to a state level and allow the perpetrators to make their next demands directly to the state, which would only encourage them to do more,” says Arthur Davydenko, Maritime bulletin and piracy expert.

Thus, all the responsibility is for now on the large Thai company that owns the ship. Its managers, however, have kept quiet, further disconcerting those families agonizing over the fates of their loved ones.