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Six sailors return home from captivity

K. Balchand


HE IS THEIR SAVIOUR:Family members of released sailors display a poster thanking Ansar Burney, at the IGI Airport in New Delhi on Friday.

NEW DELHI: The six Indian sailors aboard m.v. Suez, which was seized by Somail pirates, returned home on Friday. They did not have tales of high adventure to recount, but only nerve-racking ordeal that instilled the dread in them of never seeing their homeland or their families again.

However, it was untold joy for each one of them as they set foot on the motherland and reunited with their family members, who had spent sleepless nights and moved heaven and earth to get back their beloved ones. “It was all because of our prayers.”

The gods sent a benefactor in Pakistani social activist Ansar Burney for securing the release of the all the 22 sailors, including six Indians, from the clutches of the pirates who held them hostage for over 10 months on the high seas at gun point and physically and mentally tormented them.

There were garlands and bouquets for the six sailors; the focus was as much on Mr. Burney. Tiny tots who looked forward to meeting their fathers expressed gratification and held placards thanking Uncle Burney for bringing happiness back into their lives.

No Indian officials were in sight at the airport nor was a word said in their praise. The family members of the released hostages said they were actually happy that officials of a “heartless government” were not around.

For the record, India expressed happiness at the release of these sailors and thanked those who contributed to the rescue operation.

“We had lost hope of ever seeing our motherland,” said M.K. Sharma, echoing the emotions of fellow sailors — Prashant Chauhan, Ravinder Singh Gulia, Satnam Singh, Sachin and Biju — who were among the 22 sailors on board the Egypt vessel that the pirates seized on August 2, 2010.

Mr. Burney took the lead and arranged for the $2.1-million ransom and secured the release of all the sailors — 11 belonged to Egypt, six to India, four to Pakistan and one to Sri Lanka.

Pakistani human rights activist Ansar Burney.

“It is difficult to be on a ship for over 10 months and we can't believe we are free. It was a case of life and death,” said Ravinder Singh, while Mr. Sharma regarded it as a rebirth.

Mr. Biju said they were under constant threat: “They [the pirates] will come and say ‘we will kill you tomorrow'. But we never knew why they held such a threat.”

It was the most horrifying experience of my life, said Mr. Prashant Chauhan; it was a challenge to survive each moment. “I'm glad to have survived,” said the now comforted Prashant, who would not comment on whether he would return to the sea again. His family members, however, made it clear that they would like to just keep him back.

Each sailor narrated how he was kept in darkness without proper food and water and ill-treated by the gun-toting sea bandits. The captives were not allowed to contact their family members during the first three months; only when the Egyptian owner of the ship failed to take proper action for their release did they approach the Indian government.

But that too failed to ensure their freedom. It was then that their family members rallied together and launched a campaign, basically spearheaded by Ravinder Singh's wife Sampa. They alleged that the Prime Minister too did not show any seriousness about their problem.

Ms. Sampa declared that this was not the end of their struggle. “We will now continue to fight to ensure that the other 52 sailors held captive are brought back safe and sound to India.

Each family member thanked Mr. Burney. Amar Chauhan, father of Prashant, decided to invite him to India and arrange a get-together to jointly thank the friend in need.

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