To hell and back: Kin of kidnapped sailors say they got no help from government
Private agency and families of three sailors held captive for 75 days in Africa say Centre did not offer much help in getting them released
(From left) Ajay Kumar, Pankaj Kumar and Shushil Kumar
Three men from Himachal Pradesh, who had been kidnapped from the mid-seas, en route to Benin (Nigeria), on January 31, were released a few days ago after their families and agency paid a ransom of 6.5 million naira. The family members have alleged that they didn't receive any help from the government, and yet, soon after their sons were released, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj took credit for rescuing them from pirates.
The three — Shushil Kumar (captain), Pankaj Kumar (trainee) and Ajay Kumar (electrician) — were released earlier this week. On November 26, 2017, the three had gone to Cotonou, a large port city on the south coast of Benin in West Africa, with the help of a Mumbai-based crew mining agency. There, they boarded a ship called MT TIMI, which is an old tanker.
The ship with the three and other foreign nationals set off and it was smooth sailing, with regular calls being made to families. Around January-end, the calls suddenly stopped.
Shushil's younger brother Vinay told mid-day, "I got the number of the agency from DG Shipping's website and called on it. They gave me the number of the ship's owner. When I called him up, he told me that the vessel was mid-sea and hence not reachable. I contacted him on several occasions, as there had been no word from my brother, but he gave some excuse or the other.
"On March 12, my father received a satellite call from the pirates, who demanded a ransom of 11 million naira or they would kill them. I immediately called the ship's owner and asked him why he had been lying. He then said that he had been working to try and get them released."
According to Shushil's family, the pirates had first contacted the ship's owner, but he had refused to pay the ransom. Later, he'd paid 3 million naira and got his ship and foreigners released, but the three Indians were not released. After this, the pirates called up the captain's family. The family and the Mumbai agency then paid 6.5 million naira and got the three released.
Vinay said that when his brother was released, he told them that the pirates would give them food only once a day; so that's only 75 meals for the 75 days of captivity. There was constant fear among the families when the pirates would call in the evenings and make fresh demands and threats. On March 24, the captors gave them a deadline of two days to pay the ransom.
Vinay came to Mumbai with whatever the family could afford to pay, and the agency helped to raise the rest. After release, Shushil told Vinay, "The pirates stopped our ship on January 31 and made us get into a small boat with them. They then took us around in circles for nearly four hours, after which, we were taken into a forest, where the pirates set up camp."
Manoj Yadav, general secretary of Forward Seamen's Union of India told mid-day, "The families visited all authorities possible — the CM, foreign affairs minister, even PMO, but no positive response came from anywhere. Finally, the agency, with our help, managed to get the three back. The government only helped to bring them back from Nigeria to India."
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