Cruising sailors around the world will rejoice that members of a Danish family held hostage by Somali pirates for more than six months have been released. They are returning home after enduring 'the most horrible ordeal one can imagine', Danish government officials have said.
Jan Quist Johansen, his wife, Birgit Marie, and their three teenage children were captured as well as two Danish crew members on 24 February when their 13 metre (47ft) yacht ING was seized by pirates in the Indian Ocean.
All seven were released on Tuesday and 'are doing well under the circumstances', Charlotte Slente, a Danish foreign ministry spokeswoman, said. 'They are in a plane on their way to Denmark,' she added.
Extensive negotiations between the pirates and the Danish government - and a reported payment of $3 million in ransom, according to the BBC - saw the seven Danes flying home on yesterday (Wednesday). They are said to be in relatively good health.
The family had been on the home leg of a round-the-world sailing trip begun in 2009. As with most cruising sailors, they had been trying to get to the Suez Canal in order to reach the Mediterranean, hoping to be back in Denmark by August.
Their Somalian captors had threatened to kill them if a rescue was attempted, as happened to four Americans on their yacht Quest just two days before the Johansens were seized. The Danish yacht was equipped with a computer and they had been blogging, revealing that they were aware of the Quest tragedy at the time of their kidnapping.
The following month soldiers from Somalia's semi-autonomous Puntland region died in an unsuccessful attempt to rescue the Danes.
However, Ms Slente declined to comment on the circumstances of the release, and would not confirm whether a ransom had been paid.
The Johansens are from Kalundborg, 75 miles west of Copenhagen. Their travel blog showed they were aware of the dangers, but did not expect to get into trouble and were comforted by the sight of anti-piracy forces patrolling the area.
News of their release was met with relief in their home town. 'The family very likely is aware that what they did was not so fortunate. They certainly feel pretty bad about it now,' Ole Meridin Petersen, the chairman of the Kalundborg Yacht Club, of which Johansen is a member, said.
Hostages are held in hot, austere conditions in Somalia – typically for many months – before a ransom is agreed on and paid and hijacked ships and crew released. Last year, British couple Paul and Rachel Chandler were released after just over a year in captivity. Unconfirmed reports indicated that a ransom in the region of $1m was paid for their release.
The Danish foreign minister, Lene Espersen, told the Danish Ritzau news agency that Denmark does not pay ransoms 'as a matter of principle,' adding that the family, not the ministry, had been negotiating with the pirates. The family was 'advised by professional negotiators', she said.
The prime minister, Lars Loekke Rasmussen, said negotiations carried on for 'a long period' before the hostages were freed.
'I am really happy on behalf of the family, which since 24 February has been through the most horrible ordeal one can imagine,' he said. 'It is important that we now give the family quiet and peace.'