After nightmare at sea, 22 sailors return home

As crewmembers aboard Savina Caylyn, 1,05,000-tonne tanker that was taken hostage by Somali pirates returned home in the wee hours, Gauri, the wife of second engineer, says that positive thinking was the only thing that helped her through the harrowing ordeal

The Mumbai International Airport was a melting pot of many emotions yesterday as 22 crewmembers, who were taken hostage by Somali pirates, reached the city in the wee hours to be reunited with their family members after enduring 11 months of physical, psychological and mental torture.

Happy reunion: Rahul Puranik, crew member of hijacked Italian oil
tanker Savina Caylyn greeted by his four-year-old daughter Keya and
wife on his arrival at Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport in Mumbai
yesterday. Pic/Vijay Bate

It was an emotional homecoming for the returning sailors with tears and hugs being distributed without any reservations, even as bulbs flashed and mikes were shoved in their direction.

The 22 sailors were taken hostage from MT Savina Caylyn, the 105,000-tonne tanker owned by Naples Shipping Company Fratelli D'Amato on February 8, 2010.

But for Rahul Puranik, the second engineer aboard the tanker, the nightmare was all a blur, as all he could see was the smile on his wife and child's faces when they caught a glimpse of him after landing in the city.

Hard times
Gauri, Rahul's wife said that although she hadn't seen her husband in what now seems to be a lifetime, it was a positive attitude that kept her going. "It wasn't just me that I needed to take care of. After hearing that Rahul had been taken hostage, I had to take care of my daughter Keya, and Rahul's ageing parents. It wasn't easy, but thank God for the tanker's owners, who kept me updated on the developments. I was able to prepare for any situation."

'The seas are traps'
Commenting on the entire ordeal, Gauri added, "I never imagined that I would have to face any problem piracy poses, but now I understand what a serious threat it is to our sailors. The waters are dangerous traps."
Cautioning all future seafarers, Gauri further added, "Ensure that you sail with a good owner, who has a good support system. Make sure the vessels are registered with the UNESCO forces, or else it is like riding a bike without a helmet."

Home sweet home
Rahul, who returned to his Shivaji park home with his daughter in his arms, was welcomed with a traditional aarti.

Narrating the ordeal, he said that being the second engineer on the vessel, he and his team were forced to keep the tanker going and ensure that everything went smoothly. "We would speak to each other as that was the only way to cope with the pressure. However, the entire nightmare has been a learning lesson in life." And even though, he has just returned from unthinkable tribulations, Rahul and many more sailors are determined to go back to the seas.

Relief at last
Meanwhile, Captain Vaibhav Dalvi, general manager at V Ships India (Pvt) Limited, the Mumbai based crew management company that had sent the 17 sailors, said, "We are really happy and relieved to get all our boys safely back to India, because that was our sole aim.  But our responsibility has not ended here, and we will continue to support the families. We also want to thank the families for having patience and trusting us," he said.

Guards on vessels?
According to Captain Dalvi, all merchant vessels have started following the BMP4 (Best Management Practice 4) for protection against Somalia- based pirates, wherein armed guards are allowed on board merchant vessels, which was not the case earlier.

M/T Savina Caylyn had actually sailed through the Gulf of Aden peacefully after being escorted by a war ship. The hijack happened 570 miles off the Gulf of Aden in the Indian Ocean. Over 300 seafarers are still captive in Somalia, of which 70 are Indians.

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