Muscat: The ordeal of MV Royal Grace ended today when it finally docked at Salalah Port at around 8:30am today (Wednesday), highly placed maritime sources said.
Even though the ship was within 10 kilometres of the port, it was not allowed to dock because a shipping agency in Salalah, which had taken the responsibility of acting as the ship's local agent on Monday, declined this role yesterday. Later, at around 6 p.m. on Tuesday, Badar Shipping Agency agreed to shoulder the responsibility, and the ship finally docked at the port.
"Most of the sailors are safe and sound. The captain and some other sailors who have some health problems will undergo treatment at a private hospital in Salalah," the sources said.
The embassy officials will reach Salalah by today (Wednesday) afternoon to help the sailors.
"On Monday, a shipping agency was ready to act as MV Royal Grace's local agent. But yesterday, they backtracked. Later, we the Badar Shipping Agency stepped into the picture, and the process to dock the vessel was finalised," Mithun Ramakrishnan, the official at Badar Shipping agent, told Times of Oman.
Panama-flagged MV Royal Grace, a chemical tanker, was being skippered by Captain Shanker Datha (Indian). It was captured on March 2, 2012. The European Union Naval Force (EU NAVFOR) flagship ESPS Méndez Núnez provided assistance to MV Royal Grace after the latter regained its freedom from Somali pirates. The tanker then set sail to Salalah under the watchful eye of another EU NAVFOR warship, ESPS Rayo.
Meanwhile, ESPS Méndez Núnez is currently assisting MV Smyrni as it heads to the north of Salalah, EU NAVFOR officials wrote in an email to Times of Oman. MV Smyrni, with a crew of 26, was carrying 135,000 tonnes of crude oil when it was hijacked on May 11, 2012.
"After 10 months of being detained in a pirate anchorage off the Somali coast, it is understood that a ransom was paid for the vessel, and on Sunday, March 10, 2013, she was released by her armed pirate captors," the statement from EU NAVFOR acknowledged.
"After being informed of the release, and fresh from providing assistance to chemical tanker MV Royal Grace, ESPS Méndez Núnez was tasked with closely monitoring MV Smyrni as she moved away from the pirate anchorage. EU NAVFOR German and Spanish P-3 maritime patrol aircraft also provided reconnaissance support overhead. On Monday, March 11, a private security team was hired by the ship's owner to protect the vessel as she proceeded north to Salalah," the statement added.
Speaking about the assistance given to MV Smyrni, Rear Admiral Pedro García de Paredes, who is the force commander of the EU counter-piracy task force, remarked, "I am relieved that MV Smyrni has been released after a very difficult 10 months. We must remember that two ships are still being held by pirates, and 60 men are still being held hostage."