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Emotional family reunion for sailors freed from Somali pirates

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

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SEOUL, Dec. 5 (Yonhap) -- Four South Korean sailors who were released last week by Somali pirates after more than 19 months of captivity returned home Wednesday for a tearful reunion with their families.

They were kidnapped by Somali pirates on April 30, 2011 with the tanker MT Gemini and set free on Saturday after the Singapore-based owner of the ship paid an unspecified amount of ransom.

Five days after their release, the four sailors arrived at Incheon International Airport, west of Seoul, just before dawn on a flight from Kenya and were reunited with their families.

Looking gaunt but relieved, Park Han-yeol, the captain of the MT Gemini, told reporters that he was grateful for the government's efforts that led to their safe release.

"We extend our heartfelt gratitude to the government's utmost efforts for our safe return," Park said.

Park was greeted by his sister who gave him a winter padding jacket. She told reporters, "I am so happy to see my brother."

Captain Park Han-yeol speaks after arriving at a Busan airport on Dec. 5. (Yonhap)

South Korea's foreign ministry officials said they had assisted in ransom talks between the ship owner and the pirates, but maintained a policy of not directly engaging with the pirates.

The sailors are Park, chief engineer Kim Hyeong-eon, chief mate Lee Geon-il and engineer Lee Sang-hoon.

Chief mate Lee said, "When I think about my return here, everything seems to me like a dream."

The sailors were relatively in good health, although they lost about 10 kilograms in weight each.

Recalling their 582-day ordeal, Park told Yonhap News Agency by satellite phone on Sunday that, "We lived in cages like animals."

"We drank rain water after filtering out red worms, tadpoles and caterpillars with our undershirts," Park said.

Park said the most difficult moment for him was when pirates made the sailors telephone their families before firing warning shots and twisting their ears and necks to make them scream so as to scare the families.

 "I still get heartbroken to think of how the families felt," he said.

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