When Bhimsen Singh agreed to work on MV Asphalt‚Äîa foreign-flagged ship‚Äîin 2010, he certainly did not sign up for eating plain boiled rice with salt or chapatti with black tea.
But for four years that was all the seafarer got to survive on after Somalian pirates took over his ship. Singh‚Äôs nightmarish ordeals included walking miles just to fetch drinking water and living without electricity deep within Somalian forests with guards who were trained to pull the trigger at the slightest provocation.
‚ÄúBut that was our life,‚Äù said Singh, one of the seven Indian seafarers released two weeks ago.
The seafarers initially spent six-and-half months on the ship before being taken to Somalia. In 2011, the pirates released eight crew members and the ship in exchange for ransom running into millions of dollars but held back seven. For these seven seafarers, the only contact to the outside world was a phone call made to their family once every two-three months.
‚ÄúWe were told that we would be released only after some 120 Somalian pirates‚Äîcaptured by India‚Äîwere released,‚Äù said Singh.
In 2013, the pirates changed their mind and said they wanted ransom instead.
Finally, after long-drawn negotiations, in September 2014, Chirag Bahri of Maritime Piracy Humanitarian Response Programme (MPHRP) got in touch with the seafarers.
MPHRP is an agency funded by shipping and insurance companies, which works for seafarers hit by piracy attacks.
‚ÄúWhile this was the longest time spent by Indians in captivity after a piracy attack, there are some Thai seafarers, held captive since April 2010, who are yet to be rescued,‚Äù said Bahri, Regional Director-South Asia, MPHRP.
‚ÄúRelease of these seafarers involved ransom, negotiations by London-based law firm HSW, and backend support from many agencies including the Government, though not in the form of money,‚Äù shared Bahri, who is himself a piracy attack survivor.
‚ÄúWe do not negotiate with pirates, there are special teams who do so,‚Äù said Bahri. In some cases where the employers abandon seafarers, MPHRP arranges for funds from partners to send money to the seafarers‚Äô family (about $200 a month).
After going through such a traumatic experience, many seafarers including Singh prefer employment on shores or Indian waters.
Last year, the MPHRP helped 14-15 such seafarers find employment in Indian coastal waters.
Reunited with his family after such a long time, Singh is still haunted by the nightmarish experiences of killing 100-odd snakes and being threatened on gunpoint several times. Sharing tales of each others‚Äô families, walking within the eyesight of the captors to kill stress and tire themselves to sleep and cooking for 11 people including the four Somalians guarding them are some of the other memories.
But thankfully, piracy has declined sharply in the past two years‚Äîthere has not been any hijack since May 2012 in the Indian Ocean after international navies started guarding it.