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Ex-hostages out of fuel, fear new pirate attack

Image: Families of hostages show their photos.
Doris Deseo, left, and Catherine Boretta, right, show photos of their husbands Carlo, second from left, and Rodell, second from right, in Manila, Philippines, on  April 13. Both men were freed on Tuesday after being held by pirates for five months.Aaron Favila / AP file
/ Source: The Associated Press

The Filipino crew of a tanker released by pirates fear another attack because their ship is stranded near Somalia's eastern coast without fuel, the skipper said Friday.

Capt. Abelardo Pacheco of the Philippine-flagged MT Stolt Strength told The Associated Press by telephone the ship was drifting around 60 miles east of the coast of Somalia because the bunker fuel they requested had not yet arrived.

He said he was afraid pirates could attack again after they were allegedly double-crossed by their boss and negotiator, who Pacheco said pocketed $600,000 of the $2.5 million ransom paid.

"They might launch another attack because we are within their range," Pacheco told the AP. "Sixty to 70 miles is a very short distance. They can reach us in four hours if they launch an attack."

Spokesman Lt. Nate Christensen of the Bahrain-based 5th fleet said the U.S. Navy remains in the immediate vicinity of the tanker and will monitor the situation until a refueling ship arrives this weekend.

The ship was seized in the Gulf of Aden on Nov. 10 as it was sailing with a cargo of phosphoric acid headed to Kandla, India. It was released Tuesday.

The Philippine Foreign Affairs Department, in a statement, said it has established a task force to facilitate the vessel's immediate refueling.

It said it was coordinating with the Combined Maritime Task Force and the U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet, and NATO planes were conducting regular fly-bys above the Stolt Strength.

On Thursday morning, the crew monitored radio communications between what they believed to be pirate groups nearby, Pacheco said.

He said shortly after they were freed a German navy ship supplied them with food enough for five days. On Friday, a U.S. supply ship delivered another five days' worth of provisions.

For the last three days the vessel had been drifting without any escort, Pacheco said. But a U.S. ship was escorting them Friday from a distance of about four miles, he added.

'Lives in danger'
Pacheco said the ship has enough diesel to run a generator for communications, power and cooking. But they had to turn off the boiler to save on the diesel.

He expressed frustration at the slow action of the ship's management and the Philippine government. "They have put our lives in danger," he said.

Catherine Boretta, the wife of one of the crewmen, also was exasperated by the long wait.

"They were already released, but we cannot be at peace," Boretta said. "Will it take another six months before these people can go home?"

Pacheco said the crew remained healthy, and denied earlier reports that one of his men was shot. But he said the crew was often hungry during their ordeal, sometimes eating only spaghetti noodles seasoned with salt or foul-smelling rice.

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