Sailors released by Somali pirates reach Mumbai

“Hope of being back home to our loved ones was the only way we survived 11 months of inhuman conditions and ill treatment,” said an emotional Devji Kashyap Jethva, one of the 13 sailors who landed here on Tuesday morning.

A crew of 22 people, 17 Indians and 5 Italians, was taken into captivity along with their oil tanker ship, Savina Caylyn, in February last year near Yemen by pirates using guns and rocket propelled grenades. Thirteen crew members landed in Mumbai, on Tuesday morning while the remaining four flew to their respective cities.

The joyous families could not withhold the excitement as they rushed past the airport security barricades to embrace the sailors. Rahul Puranic’s daughter was a little over two years old when he left home promising to return in few weeks but sitting in his lap she said she had no complaints. “This is all too surreal, I have imagined this every single day and now I can barely believe that I have reached home and I am holding my daughter,” an emotional Rahul Puranic said.

“We had a lot of support from National Union of Seafarers of India (NUSI) but there were days when we feared the worse. Once there was a rumour that they (pirates) are eliminating Indians and we felt so helpless and scared. But today I feel proud of him and all the others who survived the ordeal,” Rahul Puranic’s father Arun Puranic said.

Flanked by family members, exchanging sweets and hugs the sailors were in an emotional mood as they spoke of the horrors of the hijack. “We had restricted amount of rice and water given to us. There was no contact with anyone outside and we constantly feared for our lives, each day was a struggle during captivity…I am eternally thankful to the authorities that negotiated our safe return,” Gulaam Rabbani said.

Juggling garlands and embracing his family members who had come to receive him Mr Jethva said that he had been visualizing his freedom every moment of his captivity. “We were in unlivable conditions and the only thing that kept us alive was the hope of being free someday. Over twenty of us were cramped in a small room with the daunting threat of never seeing our family…” he instantly shrugged the thought and kissed his sons.

Brijesh Balakrishnan said that while their ordeal was over there were many more that were struck in similar conditions, “The horror of being in captivity is indescribable and to come out of it alive is equally unimaginable.” When asked what he wished to do now he said, “Go home and sleep -knowing that when I wake up I will be safe in my home.”

“Living conditions were not the biggest trauma; it was the uncertainty of how the day would end that made life miserable. We had no idea what was going to happen and now I can’t believe how tall my son has become while I was away,” exclaimed Ganesh Balaji Plabi, hugging his five year old son. Recounting the nightmares of the past year Mr Plabi’s wife said, “The distressed and agony that we went through was increased by the rumours. But now he is back and I pray that all the other sailors also return to their homes safely.”

General Secretary and treasurer of NUSI, Abdulgani Y Serang, who welcomed the sailors, said that a consolidated effort from all countries is required to stall the menace of piracy, “We need to safeguard the ships and thousands of seafarers who work under difficult conditions on board the ship in high seas.” Mr Serang added that after the sailors have settled we will provide them with some professional help of counselors to deal with the trauma of the hijack.”

43 Indian sailors, from various companies, are still being held hostage by Somalian pirates in four vessels. In the last two years, 216 Indian sea farers have been rescued from the custody of pirates.

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