11 sailors held by Somali pirates freed after 4 years

11 sailors held by Somali pirates freed after 4 years
Somali pirates wearing green prison uniforms sit together with South Korean security guards as hearings begin at a court in the southern port city of Busan on May 23, 2011.

NAIROBI - Eleven sailors mostly from Asia held hostage for almost four years by Somali pirates have been freed and are safe on their way to Kenya, mediators who helped secure their release said Saturday.

The sailors, who had been held in dire conditions and suffered beatings and torture, included seven men from Bangladesh, one Indian, one Iranian, and two from Sri Lanka.

John Steed, a former British army colonel who helped negotiate their release, confirmed they had been freed.

"Currently airborne with hostages," Steed told AFP by text message.

Their boat, the Malaysian-flagged container ship MV Albedo was captured in November 2010 but sank in rough seas last July.

During their captivity, one colleague was shot by the pirates in an argument, and four others drowned.

Seven other Pakistani crew members were released in 2012 after a businessman paid their ransom, but those remaining could not afford the hefty demands of the pirates.

"The crew members and their families have suffered unimaginable distress," United Nations special envoy to Somalia Nicholas Kay said in a statement.

"The crew underwent the trauma of piracy, their ship sinking, and then being held ashore in very difficult conditions." Exact details of how they were released have not been given, but the United Nations said they had been handed over to their care, and "will be repatriated to their home countries over the coming days." But no ransom is believed to have been paid.

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