Sailors held by Somali pirates for over four years 'ate rats' to survive

Crew members due to be repatriated to their home countries following their release

Sailors held by Somali pirates for over four years 'ate rats' to survive

Sailors who had been held hostage by pirates react as they arrive at the airport in Nairobi, Kenya | Photo: PA Images

One of a group of sailors held hostage by Somali pirates has spoken of the challenges they faced during their nearly five-year-long ordeal.

Arnel Balbero told the BBC that they were given only small amounts of water and survived in part by eating rats.

"We eat rat. Yes, we cook it in the forest," he said. "[We] just eat anything, anything. You feel hungry, you eat."

The Filipino sailor also acknowledged struggling with the adjustment to normal life, saying: "I don't know what is... outside of this world when this finish, so it's very hard to start again."

Mr Balbero was among 29 crew members aboard the FV Naham 3, an Omani-flagged fishing vessel, when it was seized around 65 nautical miles south of the Seychelles in March 2012.

One died during the hijack, and two others died from illness during their captivity, according to US-based organisation Oceans Beyond Piracy.

The remaining 26 hostages –  from Cambodia, China, Indonesia, Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam – were mostly held on land in Somalia before they were released on Saturday, reportedly in exchange for a ransom.

John Steed of Oceans Beyond Piracy said the crew members were believed to be malnourished but not in serious condition.

The sailors are now being returned to their countries of origin, following a long period of negotiation.

"They are currently in the safe hands of the Galmudug authorities and will be repatriated using a UN Humanitarian flight shortly and then on to their home countries," Mr Steed said on Saturday. 

"They are reported to be in reasonable condition considering their ordeal."

However, the crew will need "comprehensive physical and psychological support" over the coming years to help them cope with their newfound freedom, he warned.

Mr Steed said only one other group had ever been held by Somali pirates for a longer period than the Naham 3 crew, who were in captivity for a total of 1,672 days.

There has been no successful hijack of a commercial vessel since 2012, but a number of fishing vessels have been attacked, he said. Several hostages also remain under the control of pirates.