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Kidnapped Indian sailor in Africa freed

IANS  |  New Delhi 

An Indian sailor who was kidnapped in Africa last month has been released and will reach India on Sunday night, the external affairs ministry said.

"Rohan Ruparelia, who was abducted during the hijacking of the ship Maximus, is flying back to India tonight," ministry spokesman Vikas Swarup said on Sunday evening.

"He is safe and has spoken to his family members. With this, all the 11 Indian crew members are safe and secure and are returning home in batches," Swarup said.

Merchant vessel Maximus, owned by Dubai-based Warm Seas company, with a crew of 18 was hijacked by pirates off the coast of Abidjan in Ivory Coast on February 11.

The crew had 11 Indian seamen, including the ship's captain.

The vessel was under charter to a South Korean company and was in its bunkering position when the incident occurred.

The Indian mission in Ivory Coast alerted the country's authorities on February 12 besides alerting the Indian missions in Ghana and Nigeria as the vessel was suspected to be sailing in that direction.

On India's request, Ghana's naval ships operating in the region were tasked to track the ship.

The pirates changed the name of the vessel to MT Elwins and it was followed by the mother ship of the pirates.

The vessel, instead of entering the waters of Benin, steered southwards and entered international waters towards Nigeria on February 14.

India took up up the issue with the Nigerian authorities, after which the Nigerian navy immediately launched operations to locate the vessel.

Five Nigerian ships were deployed for the operation and the hijacked vessel was finally intercepted by the Nigerian navy on the evening of February 19.

During the operation, one pirate was killed and six were apprehended.

No crew member sustained injury during the operation. Sixteen crew members, including 10 Indians, were rescued by the Nigerian navy.

However, two crew members -- Ruparelia and a Pakistani -- were taken hostage by the pirates when they disengaged.

"Welcome home Rohan," External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj tweeted on Sunday evening.

She was responding to a tweet by Ruparelia's sister Zankhana, who said: "Thank u for all the support Mam. My bro Rohan is finally rescued from the Pirates. Jai Hind."

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First Published: Sun, March 20 2016. 20:30 IST