Shen Jui-chang (沈瑞章), whose kidnapping sparked criticism of the government’s handling of the abduction of Taiwanese nationals overseas, landed at Taoyuan International Airport on Wednesday.
“I am deeply moved that so many people reached out to help me,” the marine engineer told reporters as he entered the airport’s arrivals hall.
Shen had been held in Somalia, along with 26 other crew members, for 1672 days, after the Omani-flagged Naham 3 was hijacked by pirates roughly 65 nautical miles off the coast of the Seychelles.
Shen’s wife Yang Hsiu-huei (楊秀慧) escorted him as he walked unsteadily through the airport.
But Shen appeared to be in a jubilant mood, repeatedly exclaiming “I’m finally home!”
Several of Shen’s relatives joined him for a visit to Taipei’s Xingtian Temple (行天宮) shortly after his return.
Another Taiwanese national, Captain Chung Hui-te (鐘輝德), was killed as the pirates stormed the ship. Another two crew members died of illness while in captivity.
Chung’s two sons joined Shen at the temple on Wednesday, and told the press that “the family is deeply grateful toward him (Shen), and we will definitely keep in touch.”
Shen’s eldest daughter thanked all those who had helped the family for their support, bowing three times after the visit to the temple.
Shen was flown to Guangzhou from the Kenyan capital Nairobi prior to his transfer to Taiwan.
Who Failed Them?
While the reunion on Wednesday drew emotions, the incident itself has sparked criticism over what some have called the government’s late — or even non-existent — response to the hijacking.
Kuomintang Central Policy Committee director Alex Tsai (蔡正元) — who claimed to have been key to the successful rescue operation — said that he had initially sought government assistance when he received letters from the hostages’ family members in 2014.
However, Tsai said that then Vice Premier Simon Chang (張善政) had told him that “the government was unfit to intervene.”
Tsai said that after being rebuffed by Chang, he decided to personally take part in the negotiations, reaching out to the Hostage Support Partners group.
“The negotiation process had been difficult. A representative of the pirates was killed and replaced, and ransom prices were changed six times.”
But Chang responded by saying on social media that openly fundraising for a ransom risked violating international counterterrorism principles.
He added that some countries believed negotiating with pirates could encourage abduction.
Chang said it was regrettable that Taiwan had limited power on the international stage, adding the government could do little but “advise fishing vessels to avoid dangerous waters.”
Also rebutting Tsai’s accusations, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that they had requested help from several international organizations upon learning about the incident. Officials named the Piracy Reporting Center, the European Union Naval Force and the Naval Safety Center and a British NGO as examples of organizations they had reached out to.