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A crewmember arrives in Guangzhou Kevin Durant Thunder Jersey , capital of South China's Guangdong Province on October 23. Photo: Xinhua
After being held in captivity for 1,671 days by Somali pirates, 10 Chinese captives finally heard the longed-for words in their mother tongue: ""We are here to take you home. You are safe now.""
These words were from Yang Shu, standing deputy director with the Consular Protection Center under China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) and head of the government's hostage-retrieving team, upon his meeting with the Chinese sailors.
On the evening of November 23, after being released by pirates off the coast of Somalia, the 26 hostages including 10 Chinese nationals arrived at Nairobi International Airport, Kenya in a United Nations plane.
They are all crewmen of the Naham 3, a Taiwan-flagged fishing vessel that was hijacked in March 2012.
Uncertain till last minute
The United Nations, the Beijing-based Association for Relations across the Taiwan Straits and many other charity organizations including the US-based Oceans Beyond Piracy (OBP) also took part in the rescue, said Yang.
Yang received advance notice that the hostages had been released, but it was not until he saw them in person that he reported to Beijing.
Before they were handed over nothing is certain, Yang was quoted as saying by the China Youth Daily.
In fact, the pirates previously made several claims about releasing the hostages but changed their minds.
Two months ago, the pirates took a picture of the 26 hostages, in which every frowning man was holding a sheet of paper with a code, to prove they were still alive.
The picture was sent to John Steed, a member of OBP, who was assisting the negotiations and rescue.
You are never certain about whether things will go south, John said, adding that he was holding his breath until the last second.
The 26 freed sailors later took probably their last ever group photo together on the Nairobi runway, with tired yet relaxed smiles.
A lengthy stretch in captivity has left these men out of touch with the world - some even asking who the president of China is today and all needing help to use a smartphone to call their families.
Staff at the Chinese Embassy in Kenya prepared clothes and backpacks for the Chinese citizens in advance. They had to measure their feet after they landed, because most of them had forgotten their shoe sizes.
After getting off the plane, Shen Ruizhang, the ship's chief engineer from Taiwan, emotionally took out a picture of himself before his capture, in which he was light-skinned and chubby, asking ""now who can recognize me?""
There were originally 29 crewmen. However, captain Zhou Huide from Taiwan was killed during the hijacking and two succumbed to illness during their four and a half years in captivity.
According to footage posted on the OBP website the hostages were kept in ""deplorable conditions"" in a small village 400 kilometers northeast of the Somali capital of Mogadishu.
Leng Wenbing, a crew member from Southwest China's Sichuan Province, revealed that they lived on a bowl of water and two meals a day - a fist-sized piece of dough for breakfast, and a bowl of rice for dinner.
They lived in leaky dilapidated houses with no shoes, Leng recalled.
A sailor from the Philippines told the media tearfully that they even had to hunt rats for sustenance.
When asked at a November 24 press conference why it took four and a half years to save the hostages, Lu Kang, the spokesman for the MFA, said it is never an easy job to rescue hostages.
The release of the Naham 3 crew means that no foreign captives taken by pirates are still being held, John said.
The number of hijackings has reduced significantly. In 2015 the number has dropped to 12 from 176 in 2011.
Since 2012, no Somali pirates have attacked any ships. Starting in 2001, pirates off the Somali coast posed a threat to ocean transportation, with over 3,000 seafarers being taken hostage since then.
According to a report issued by OBP in June, the released seafarers will very likely face a long-term impact on their mental and physical health.
About 26 percent of the released captives will likely suffer from post-traumatic stress disorders, it added.
China Youth Daily - Global Times
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