COLOMBO: The 25-member crew of a Jordanian ship which ran aground near rebel-held territory off Sri Lanka s coast last week were on their way to the capital Colombo Monday, the Tamil Tiger guerrillas said.
The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) said the crew led by an Iraqi national was handed over to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to facilitate travel from rebel checkpoints facing government troops.
The crew, which included 11 Egyptians, 13 Jordanians and an Iraqi captain, left rebel-held territory Monday morning.
Their Jordanian-registered vessel ran aground in northeast Sri Lanka late Saturday.
The LTTE boarded the ship Saturday while it drifted close to the rebel-held Mullaitivu coast. According to Reuters, the ship carrying a cargo of rice drifted off the Mullaittivu coast in the island s war-torn northeast early on Saturday after mechanical failure.
Sri Lanka s defense ministry said a distress message indicating that the vessel was under armed pirate attack was received by the Maritime Rescue Coordinating Centre in Britain, which conveyed it to the Sri Lankan navy.
The captain of the stricken vessel told Reuters over telephone from the de facto rebel capital of Kilinochchi that he and his crew were in good health.
They have taken care of us, extended great hospitality, said Ramis Jabhar, the Iraqi captain of the ship.
The head of the LTTE peace secretariat S.Puleedevan, who was also on the phone call, said a meeting was being held with the Red Cross later on Sunday to organise the crew s safe passage home.
But the Sri Lankan military has accused the Tamil Tigers of forcibly boarding the vessel while it was drifting in the seas, with its cargo of 14,000 tonnes of rice bound for South Africa from India.
International monitors overseeing a tattered 2004 ceasefire between the Sri Lankan military and the Tamil Tigers also weighed in, saying the rebels must respect international law.
The Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission has conveyed to the LTTE that the government will conduct a rescue mission to salvage the ship and its crew. SLMM has strongly advised LTTE to allow for this operation to be executed without any delay, the mission said in a statement.
The military said attempts to establish contact with the ship had failed and it was believed that the LTTE s Sea Tigers had disconnected the communication systems.
The LTTE has a small navy that is used in its fight for independence for the island s minority 2.5 million Tamil community. The conflict has claimed more than 60,000 lives since 1972.