The families of the two crewmembers from the district of a Turkish oil tanker, MT Cotton, hijacked off Gabon on July 15 are delighted as the pirates have released the ship and the 24-member crew.

The families of P.K. Babu, 34, of Palakkunnu and T.R. Vasantha Kumar, 36, from nearby Melparamba received the news from a shipping agency in Kochi on Monday morning.

Mr. Vasantha Kumar rang up his wife, Priya, twice on Monday at their Adukkathubayal residence, where she is living with their two children.

He said he was safe after spending agonising days with the pirates, who looted the ship’s huge oil stock, money and their personal belongings, including clothes, K.T. Shivaraman, Ms. Priya’s father, said. Murali, a representative of the shipping agency in Kochi, told The Hindu that Turkish military and government officials were accompanying the tanker, which was stranded in deep seas off Togo. Mr. Babu rang up his wife, Srividya, and his ailing 68-year-old mother, Vellachi, earlier in the day informing them that he was safe and the ship was moving towards the coast of Nigeria from where they were expected to sail towards Europe, P.K. Murali, his elder brother, said.

It was a nightmarish week for the 24-member crew of the Malta-flagged tanker, he said quoting from his brother’s brief phone call.

Armed with sophisticated weapons, the 14-member gang of pirates forced the ship crew to off-load the huge stock to another vessel late at night and the work stretched till early morning.

“The initial days of the hijack were the most agonising as the pirates took one crewmember after another to unidentified spots and kept them in isolation inside the ship. The whereabouts of the crew members were not known for the first three days. They had to face mild violence from the pirates who dictated terms. But the pirates provided food to the crew till the entire valuables were looted by them,” Mr. P.K. Murali said.

“We visited the nearby temples earlier in the day and will make offerings to the almighty for showering grace to secure their precious life,” Mr. Murali said.

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