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'They are not pirates, but terrorists'
At around 2. 30 pm on May 8, 2010, as we sailed towards the Gulf of Aden, we spotted a skiff speeding towards us. Before we could act, our ship was showered with bullets and grenades. We were going to get a naval escort shortly. But luck didn't seem to be on our side. Before long, six hijackers with guns in their hands and grenades around their waists were on our ship. We felt helpless and numb.
We locked all access doors and tried hiding in the bridge area, but we could be seen through the glass walls. The attackers gestured us to open the door. When our Captain opened the door, nasty blows rained upon him. The pirates couldn't speak English, so we tried hard to read their gestures correctly to avoid any untoward provocation.
We were made to take the ship to Somalia, even as some of us were beaten up. Finally, one of the pirates muttered, "Khauf nahi" (no fear) and signalled us to sit down. We anchored first in Hafun and stayed there for a few hours. Then we sailed to Gara'ad, where around 50 Somalis, looking belligerent and spitting all over the place, came to inspect the ship.
The crew was later restricted to the bridge area. The attackers ransacked our cabins and took away our personal belongings. Some weeks later, a guy named Shabeen Ali Jama came on board. He spoke good English and Italian and introduced himself as a negotiator.
To ward off disease, we were allowed to occupy four different cabins. Senior personnel were isolated. We had to run the generators and keep the ship lights on to keep international navies from suspecting trouble. With food and fuel running out, they started making unreasonable demands, like asking us to keep the system going with only half the fuel or power the generator using benzene and castor oil. When we explained why that wasn't possible, they tortured us.
Our hands and feet were tied. At times, they gagged our mouths with plastic bags, tied one leg or both wrists to a mast and hurled us down. Some of the senior personnel were stripped to their underwear and pushed in the freezing temperatures of the meat room. Sometimes, ice was stuffed in their underwear. Plastic bands or cables were tied to our genitals. If we screamed, they tightened them further. Sometimes, they fired guns close to our ears to force us to cooperate. They wanted to make our ship a mother vessel for pirate attacks. When we refused to help, we were beaten. We could bathe or answer nature's call only with their permission. It was painful and humiliating. The attackers did drugs and smoked heavily.
The younger pirates were especially beastly. The more we writhed in pain, the louder they laughed. I can never forget the wicked face of Noor, who had a silver tooth, or Budiga, who jumped in joy as we were tortured. We dangled between hope and despair through every moment of those eight months. We made freshwater on the ship from seawater and even gave it to the other hijacked ships. Whenever horrific tales of death and cruelty emerged from those ships, we wept.
The ransom money was dropped on December 27, 2010. The pirates spent that night counting the money. We were released on December 28, 2010, at 11 am. We are grateful to our company for securing our release. I wish an international force prosecuted the pirates, nabbed their financiers, and bombed their hubs. They are not pirates, but terrorists.
As told to Harsh Kabra
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