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Indian sailors back with tales of horror, neglect

Last updated on: June 24, 2011 14:30 IST

Indian sailors back with tales of horror, neglect

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Six Indian sailors on the M V Suez who were kept captive by Somali pirates for 10 months returned to New Delhi on Friday. They were all praise for the people and government of Pakistan and angry at the lack of response from the Indian government. Sahim Salim meets them and their families.

The Indian government practically did nothing to attempt a rescue of their sailors kept in captive by Somali pirates for over 10 months. The Pakistani people and its government ran the whole show of getting them to safety and gave a wonderful welcome to the freed sailors.

The 22-member crew of Egyptian merchant vessel MV Suez, which included 11 Egyptians, four Pakistanis, six Indians and one Sri Lankan, was taken captive after Somalian pirates attacked them last year. The sailors were freed after Pakistan human rights activist Ansar Burney raised money for their ransom after successfully negotiating their release.

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Image: Indian sailor Ravinder Singh is delighted to reunite with his son

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'Thank you Ansar Burney uncle'

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India failed to put a face-saving show even in the reception of its sailors. Unlike Pakistan, which had Sindh Governor Dr Ishratul-Ebad receive all the freed sailors, including the six Indians, there was no representative from the Indian government to receive the sailors who landed at Delhi airport Friday morning.

The anger against the Indian administration was evident. The 10-year-old son of one of the rescued Indian sailors displayed a sketch with the words, "Thank you Ansar Burney uncle," addressing Pakistani human rights activist, whose NGO Ansar Burney Welfare Trust, collected donations from Pakistani people to pay the ransom money demanded by the Somali pirates.

The little boy, Nikhil Sharma is the son of third engineer N K Sharma. He told rediff.com, "I really want to thank Burney uncle. It was only through his efforts that my father came back today. I have seen my mother run to everyone in our government, but most of the times they just gave us promises and then never attended our calls."

His little sister Jiya, 5, chips in, "I have spoken to Burney uncle. He sounded like a very nice man. I am so happy that my father is here finally."

Nikhil and Jiya, accompanied by their mother, Madhu Sharma, had reached the Terminal 3 of the Indira Gandhi International Airport by 8.15 am -- more than an hour before Sharma's expected arrival. They were to wait for two and a half hours more before Sharma would finally come out of the airport.

"He has been waiting for so long. What is an hour or two for us? I will happily wait for him. I have hardly slept the whole night," Madhu says.

Image: Families of Indian sailors were grateful to Ansar Burney, whose NGO collected a ransom of $2.1 million

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'Indian government has severely disappointed us'

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When asked if the Indian government helped her at all in securing her husband's release, she answers with a simple shake of the head and adds, "It was Burney and the lovely people of Pakistan who saved my husband."

Sampa Arya, wife of another sailor, Ravinder Singh, however, does not conceal her "severe disappointment" with the Indian government.

 "I had lost all hope. I had knocked on every door possible, including the highest door --that of the prime minister. When he said there was nothing he could do, I thought it was all over. What kind of government tells you that the lives of the sailors on board of a hijacked vessel is the responsibility of the ship owner? You know, we call Pakistani people terrorists and level a string of allegations against them. In the time of our most severe need, they were the one who got the job done, and they rescued not only Pakistani sailors, but also Indians, that too after our government neglected us," says Sampa.

Image: Sampa Arya, the wife of sailor Ravinder Singh

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Sailors recall ordeal

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Satnam Singh, one of the sailors, says, "After we were released, MV Suez's owner told us that another ship was sent to rescue us. But there was no response to our repeated calls. Then we tried the Indian Navy, but there was no answer from them either. Once, we even managed to get one of the navy officers on the phone. He cut the phone and even after repeatedly trying, he did not pick up. When our Pakistani counterparts contacted their navy, they promptly responded."

When asked about this, N K Sharma says, "When that navy officer cut the call, my mind went completely numb. I thought all was lost. I never dared to hope to come back alive. It was only because of the Pakistani navy that we are here."

MV Suez, laden with a cargo of cement, was sailing toward Eritrea when it was hijacked on August 2, 2010 by over 50 Somali pirates in the Gulf of Aden. For about 10 months, the 22-member crew were tortured, kept hungry and ill-treated. Even negotiations began months later, as it was difficult to establish a contact with them.

Image: Satnam Singh, one of the Indian sailors, talks to the media after his return

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'We were tortured, beaten up and give less food'

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Prashant Chauhan, one of the sailors, tells rediff.com, "It was a nightmare. They kept the entire crew in a small room on the ship. About 50 armed pirates guarded the 22 of us. We were even accompanied to the toilets."

Satnam Singh says, "We were tortured and beaten up. They would give us very little food and even lesser water. All we had for 10 months was plain rice and occasionally some curry. Most of the time, we were ordered to be in a kneeling position."

Sharma says, "For food, all we got was left-overs. Many of us fell sick. They refused to even give us medicines. The healthy ones among us put wet clothes on the foreheads of the sick ones."

What was even scarier for the crew was that two days after they were released, another group of Somalian pirates attacked them.

"It was later in the evening that another group almost captured us. We managed to escape somehow. The Indian Navy had told us that they were monitoring and tracking our movement and that they would respond within minutes if another attack took place. But they never came," Satnam Singh says.

Image: Indian sailor Prashant Chauhan

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