Monday, February 19, 2007
A hostage returns home

Cirilo Nebit is a very fortunate man indeed.

Held with 23 fellow seamen for more than three weeks in the Niger Delta, by masked gunmen, he is now back home in the Philippines, reflecting on what a surreal month this has been for him. I met him just after he’d been reunited with his anxious family, at the Malacanang Palace in Manila. He’d been invited with his wife and four sons to a special homecoming dinner with the Filipino President Gloria Arroyo. There, the men finally relaxed with their loved ones and chatted about their brush with death in the heart of Africa.

Fifty-three-year-old Cirilo has worked on ships of all types for more than 30 years. His voyage on the Baco Liner II started prosaically enough from Belgium, but it was when they were off the coast of Nigeria that suddenly things changed for the worse. Cirilo, the second engineer, was below deck, when he heard on the radio that armed men were approaching the ship. “They blocked our path with 12 speed boats” he says.

He describes how the gunmen were wearing few clothes, but were heavily armed with machine guns, assault rifles and rocket-propelled grenade, as they stormed the ship and forced the captain to weigh anchor. Cirilo says he was terrified and thought it would be “his last day.” The men were taken off in speed boats to the rebel camp in the swamps of the Niger Delta. Cirilo says the men claimed to be from the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta or MEND. He says they were well looked after.

When asked what they did for the long three weeks they were held, Cirilo replies: “We just stayed inside, read some books, played cards and watched television."He says the gunmen promised they weren’t killers and said the sailors would be released after only a few hours. But it soon became clear that the men would be held for longer.

The seamen shared their food with the gunmen and were unharmed. Cirilo says the rebels stole some of the ship’s cargo, including explosives and even 900 tonne barges that were kept within the superstructure of the massive vessel. Cirilo says he knows nothing of the negotiations which led to their release and doesn’t know whether any ransom was paid. His family had been waiting anxiously for news in Manila and watched CNN Correspondent Jeff Koinange’s reports from the camp showing the hostages. Melinda Nebit, Cirilo’s wife, says even their three-year-old son Dax watched and was soon declaring that his father had been “kidnapped by militants.” Now the entire family has met the president of the Philippines, have appeared on TV and are quite the talk of the neighborhood.

It’s difficult getting back to normal life, after such an extraordinary month. But Cirilo is clearly traumatized by his experience saying: “Every time I remember this happened to me … to us … sometimes I cry.”

From Dan Rivers, CNN International Correspondent

So what does the MEND really want? Do they want explosives and ammunition? It seems like the hostages were well taken care of considering they were kidnapped from their ship.

In Jeff Koinange's report, the militants seemed very threatening in the footage. I guess it was for the camera. But how desperate will these individuals become if the demands for their homeland do not materialize?

Is it just publicity they are seeking or will they become another extremist group killing over frustration and rebellion?

Was Cirilo just lucky along with his seaman or is this just the beginning of new chaos on the high seas?
It's rather very unfortunate that such is happening this time around in Nigeria. However, the Government, as a matter of urgency should get things done to avert such happenings & to really correct the maltreatment / injustics in the area.
I think it is important that stories like this get press, that some rebel groups, such as MEND, are not thuggish brutes but instead are merely publicizing their plight. While I may not necessarily agree with all of their methods and tactics, this is certainly an example that illustrates how terrorism can be effective for desperate populations. These kidnappings have begun to spurn foreign oil companies to put pressure on the Nigerian government, particularly with elections around the corner. It is unlikely that real change will be seen by the residents of the Delta region, but I can not fault MEND for trying.
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