Retired British colonel helps secure release of Iranian soldier held by Somali pirates

Our Foreign Staff
File image of a Somali pirate standing near a fishing vessel - AP

An Iranian sailor held hostage by Somali pirates was freed because he was dying of malnutrition, a former British army officer who helped negotiate his release has said.

Three other Iranian hostages remain in Somalia.

"This guy was dying – he looked like a skeleton. He was bleeding internally. He had severe malnutrition. I suspect the others are in a similar condition," John Steed, a retired British colonel, said.

Col Steed has worked in the region for many years trying to free Somali hostages. Mohammad Sharif Panahandeh was among 21 crew members of a boat hijacked in March 2015.

Eight of the hostages died, five escaped, and Iran freed four last year.

The hostages had been split up by their captors after arguments over money, said Col Steed. Mr Panahandeh was released without payment because the pirates thought he would die.

"He was released last weekend but we had him in (the northern Somali town of) Galkayo trying to get him fit to travel. A week of trying to get him fit to travel. We had to stabilize him," Col Steed said.

“Nobody wants to pay for these guys because they are Baluchi,” he added.

Poverty-stricken Baluchistan straddles the border between Iran and Pakistan and is riven by banditry and insurgency.