After being held in captivity for more than three months by Somali pirates, seven out of 22 Indian crew members of the Panama-flagged cargo vessel 'Al Khaliq' returned safely in Mumbai on Thursday.
The Indian crew, along with two Burmese, was taken hostage after the vessel was hijacked on October 22 last year, around 180 nautical miles from Seychelles in the Indian Ocean.
"Indian crew members returned after they were freed by the pirates on payment of a ransom by the vessel operator," National Union of Seafarers of India's General Secretary Abdulgani Y Serang said.
Recounting the three-month ordeal, one of the seafarers who returned along with his colleagues, said it was a nightmarish experience for them even though their captors did not harm anyone.
"They did not harm anyone of us. But it was worse than hell. We were all besieged by gun-toting pirates all the time. They just wanted the ransom," Amit Wahie, second officer of the vessel, said.
Wahie said that the crew was thankful to the company for its efforts in securing their release.
The 'Al Khaliq' was released on February 9 after the vessel operator paid the ransom. Piracy is rife in the Indian Ocean and the Gulf of Aden off the war-torn East African nation of Somalia despite the presence of naval forces patrolling the waters off Somalia. According to the International Maritime Bureau, "the number of piracy attacks world-wide has gone up almost 40 percent last year, with gunmen from the failed Horn of Africa state accounting for more than half the 406 reported incidents.""If the situation does not improve, seafarers particularly from the Asia-Pacific, will find it difficult to sail in the pirate-infested waters off Somalia," Abdulgani said.