>KUALA LUMPUR, MALAYSIA - Hope has sprung anew for the families of the 63 Malaysians held hostage in Somalia as three Royal Malaysian Navy vessels arrived in the region.
The vessels, with commandos on board, were believed to have arrived at the Gulf of Aden yesterday.
They are the new-generation offshore patrol vessel KD Pahang, frigate KD Lekiu and support ship KD Sri Inderapura.
The Malaysian hostages from Bunga Melati Dua and Bunga Melati Lima are being held at the village of Eyl in northeastern Somalia.
Among the crew of Bunga Melati Lima is a woman, Farahiyah Azreen Mohd Ariffin, 27, a junior electrical engineer.
The Malaysians are among 191 hostages held by Somalian pirates since July 20. The pirates had hijacked at least nine ships in recent weeks.
RMN chief Admiral Datuk Abdul Aziz Jaafar said the ships were well-equipped with armaments and personnel to receive the hostages when they were freed.
'This includes providing them first aid, water and food. Our mission is also to escort the MISC Bhd vessels home once the episode is over,' he said, adding that they were ready for any eventuality.
'The hijackers have told MISC that they do not want any government intervention. So, we have to take into consideration the safety of the crew.
'We hope the matter will be settled amicably and as soon as possible.'
He said although the mission was not to engage the pirates, the deployment would test the RMN's capabilities and provide exposure for the men.
He said the three vessels would be stationed "out of sight" of the MISC vessels to not jeopardise negotiations carried out by MISC officials.
Following the hijackings, the National Security Division of the Prime Minister's Department had requested the RMN to escort MISC vessels in the Gulf of Aden.
'We can only do this on a short-term basis due to limited resources. We need new generation multi-role vessels that have speeds of 22 knots and other capabilities.
'The RMN will carry out escort duties provided MISC ships ply the route during daylight and station security personnel on the deck. In the meantime, MISC will have to beef up the security of its vessels.'
Pirates seized palm oil tanker Bunga Melati Dua in the gulf between Somalia and Yemen on Aug 19. A Filipino sailor was killed.
Ten days later, Bunga Melati Lima was hijacked in the same area. The pirates have reportedly demanded a RM10 million ransom for the two ships and their crew.
Aziz said hijacking was a major threat unlike before when only robberies occurred.
The International Maritime Bureau (IMB) identified four main piracy gangs operating in the trade route, which links the Red Sea with the Mediterranean Sea through the Suez Canal, where commodities like oil, grain, iron ore and timber are shipped.
The gangs, armed with rocket-propelled grenades and high-powered boats, are from the Somali Marines, the National Volunteer Coast Guard, the Marka Group and the Puntland Group.
Led by warlord Abdi Mohamed Afweyne, the Somali Marines are the most powerful in the impoverished region which has a 3,025km coastline.
On why there were no preventive measures employed by MISC, Aziz said international law barred merchant vessels from being armed or having marshals.
'Similarly, there were requests by vessels from the United States and other countries to arm themselves in the Straits of Malacca but this was not agreed upon by the littoral states (Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore).'
The IMB reported 15 piracy attacks on merchant and private vessels in the Gulf of Aden between Feb 1 and Sept 1.
The vessels were from Russia, France, Spain, Holland, Germany, Japan, Nigeria, Thailand, Iran and Malaysia. -NST