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Tiny Tuvalu Pleads for Help to Rescue Sailors From Somalia Pirates

The families of 12 Pacific Island sailors held by Somali pirates are appealing to Australia for help in securing their release. The men were working onboard the German cargo ship, the Hansa Stavanger.

Eleven sailors from Tuvalu and one from Fiji along with crew members from Germany and Ukraine were seized off the Horn of Africa in early April.

Their captors reportedly demand a ransom of $15 million.

Little progress

The Tuvalu government says it is working hard to get its citizens freed but after more than two months, little progress has been made in negotiations with the Somali pirates.

The plight of the 11 men has hit Tuvalu hard.

The country comprises nine coral atolls in the South Pacific Ocean, midway between Australia and Hawaii. It has a population of about 12,000.

About 40 percent of Tuvaluan men work as crew members on foreign freighters and their remittances provide valuable income back home.

Hostage families worried

In Australia, Tuvaluan expatriate Mapusaga Fumatagi has a cousin who is being held aboard the German cargo ship.

She says these are deeply worrying times for the families of the hostages.

"You know, it has never been in their wildest dreams that (a) human being can do this to other human beings," she said. "They are all sad, they are all scared, especially the close families of the 12 seafarers and Tuvalu as a whole has, sort of, come together to work something out, otherwise we are so hopeless that we don't have that kind of ransom."

Australia offers help

The families of the sailors have pleaded with the Australian government to do what it can to intervene.

At the end of May, Canberra announced it was sending a warship to patrol off the Horn of Africa as part of an international response to combat piracy.

Officials have refused to comment on the hostages onboard the Hansa Stavanger, saying they do not want to undermine efforts to secure their release.

Piracy watchdogs have reported more than 100 pirate attacks off the coast of Somalia so far this year.