Kochi

Nine men pull off run for safety with diligent planning

Hard-won freedom: The fishermen who fled following ‘inhuman’ treatment from their sponsor in Yemen, at the Customs Jetty in Fort Kochi on Friday.

Hard-won freedom: The fishermen who fled following ‘inhuman’ treatment from their sponsor in Yemen, at the Customs Jetty in Fort Kochi on Friday.   | Photo Credit: Thulasi Kakkat

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Fishermen steal boat steer it across rough seas to escape from ‘captivity’ in Yemen

As the dual-toned mechanised fishing vessel bobbed up and down in the waters along the Customs Jetty at Fort Kochi on Friday afternoon, the nine fishermen who had stolen and steered it across the troubled seas all the way from Yemen in a 10-day-long adventure inspired by a last-ditch attempt for survival were being grilled at the coastal police station a few metres away.

Notwithstanding their hours-long interrogation by various agencies inside a makeshift interrogation room on the first floor of the station, the haggard-looking men appeared at peace with themselves having survived the ordeal, which at many points they felt they would not.

Going by the statements they gave to the police, they were setting foot on a shore, forget in their own land, perhaps for the first time in the last 10 months. For, the vessel turned out to be a de facto workplace and prison rolled into one before it eventually proved to be their ticket to safety.

The statement of Amal Vivek, a 33-year-old from Kanyakumari district, gave a chilling account of how the perpetrators employed deceit and deception to drive them into a corner of almost no return. It started with five of them taking the flight to Sharjah from Thiruvananthapuram on December 13 last year after one of their past employers offered them fishing work. From Sharjah, they were taken to Ajman in the United Arab Emirates, where they spent a month in the boat and was joined by the other four.

Then they were taken in the boat to what they were told was Oman but turned out to be Yemen, marking the beginning of their nightmare. “There was too much work but not only the share of the catch was not forthcoming but we were forced to survive on a meagre subsistence. We were never allowed to set foot outside the boat, and our passports were seized the moment we returned from fishing,” said Sahaya Ravi Kumar, another fisherman, in his statement.

When all hopes were lost, they hatched a plan to make a dash for safety, and they planned well. They started squirrelling away food and fuel rations allotted for fishing expeditions, and when the D-Day came on November 19, they had stockpiled in excess of 6,000 litres of fuel. Around 500 litres were still left in the vessel anchored at the jetty.

The police suspect that their Yemeni sponsor and boat owner were unlikely to have any clue about what had hit them. “Their fishing expedition often lasts in excess of a month, and only when they fail to return after that period will they come to know of it,” said a police officer.

And, for those nine men, it was a sweet little revenge no matter what its consequences were.

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Printable version | Dec 15, 2019 10:26:21 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/Kochi/nine-men-pull-off-run-for-safety-with-diligent-planning/article30119974.ece

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