They were among a crew of 22 taken hostage by pirates near Yemen
“The hope of being back home to our loved helped us survive the 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 left for their homes elsewhere.
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 when he left home promising to return in a few weeks, but sitting on 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 Mr. Puranic said.
“We had a lot of support from the National Union of Seafarers of India [NUSI], but there were days when we feared the worst. Once there was a rumour that they [pirates] were eliminating Indians and we felt so helpless and scared. But today, I feel proud of him and all the others who survived the ordeal,” Mr. Puranic's father Arun Puranic said.
Flanked by family members, exchanging sweets and hugs, the sailors became emotional as they spoke of the horrors of the hijack.
“We got a restricted amount of rice and water. 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 who negotiated our safe return,” Gulaam Rabbani said.
Mr. Jethva said he had been visualising his freedom every moment of his captivity. “We were in unliveable 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 horrible prospect of never seeing our family…” He quickly shrugged off the thought and kissed his sons.
Brijesh Balakrishnan said that while their ordeal was over, there were many more who were stuck in similar conditions: “The horror of being in captivity is indescribable and to come out of it alive is equally unimaginable.”
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. 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 distress and agony that we went through were amplified 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 the NUSI Abdulgani Y. Serang, who welcomed the sailors, said a consolidated effort by all countries was required to stall the menace of piracy. “We need to safeguard the ships and thousands of seafarers who work under difficult conditions on board.”
Mr. Serang added that after the sailors had settled they would be provided professional help of counsellors to deal with the trauma.
Forty-three Indian sailors, from various companies, are still being held hostage by Somalian pirates in four vessels. In the last two years, 216 Indians sea farers have been rescued.