Indonesian crew returns home after Benghazi abduction

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JAKARTA: Embun Diarsih had been used to being in touch once a week with her husband Ronny William, a sailor for 35 years.

But in September 2017, after William did not contact her for two weeks, her worries were confirmed when one of his fellow sailors told her that the Malta-flagged fishing vessel on which William was working had been hijacked near Benghazi, Libya.

“I hadn’t heard from my husband for two weeks, then I had a call from his friend, an Indonesian sailor who was also working on a fishing vessel in Europe, he told me that the boat in which my husband was working on had been hijacked near Benghazi,” Embun told Arab News at the foreign ministry on Monday where Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi officially handed over William and five other crew members to their families.

Diarsih told Arab News that she immediately told Indonesian authorities about the abduction.

William told Arab News that he and his fellow crew members sailed from Malta to look for fishing grounds.

The Salvatur VI vessel was seized by a Benghazi-based militia on Sept. 23 last year about 23 miles off the Libyan coast.
The militiamen seized everything, including communication devices and the crew’s personal belongings.

“Since the vessel didn’t have any means of communication, the Indonesian government only found out about the hijacking on Sept. 28 from the vessel’s owner, who contacted the Indonesian Embassy in Rome,” said the Foreign Ministry’s director for the protection of Indonesians abroad, Lalu Muhammad Iqbal.

Indonesian authorities, including officials from the state intelligence agency BIN, tried to contact the militia to gain access to the crew.

In December, the Indonesian Embassy in Tripoli finally secured direct access to the militia in Benghazi, which gave approval for communication with the crew. That “enabled us to get proof of life and to monitor their condition,” Iqbal said.

Diarsih said that was when she was finally able to talk to her husband again, after waiting for three months.

“I just waited and waited. I understand it’s a conflict area and the process was difficult,” she added.
Following months of intensive communication with various parties in Benghazi, Indonesian officials reached an understanding with them on how to extract the hostages.

“On March 27… the six crew were handed over to us at the port of Benghazi,” Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi said, adding that the whole process was delicate given the complex political situation in Libya.

William said they survived on the run-down boat by fishing, and they asked one of the militiamen assigned to guard them to sell some of the fish they caught in the market, and to use the money to buy rice and other provisions.

“Until December, we witnessed clashes between the militia… and Daesh militants. A bomb fell not far from the boat where we were held captive,” he added.

“The port and the city are in ruins. It’s like a dead town. There were decayed boats and damaged buildings everywhere.”

Marsudi said the Foreign Ministry is continuing to communicate with the boat’s owner in Malta, adding: “We will make sure that the crewmen’s rights are fulfilled.”

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