By Crystal Koelmeyer
Perumal Selvaraja, affectionately known as ‚ÄòRaja‚Äô, is a marine fisherman turned entrepreneur, who bid adieu to his vocation, prematurely, for the reason that his destiny and consequences forced him to do so. One of six lucky escapees who survived Somali pirates and got home in one piece, early last year, Raja, had been a dry fish tradesman since and is living happily with his wife and five daughters.¬†
Raja, who dreads the very word ‚Äòsea‚Äô says that he had resolved never to go fishing again, given the unpleasant experiences he and his acquaintances had to suffer while being a captive of ‚Äúalmost cannibal‚Äù pirates.
‚ÄúI have settled myself well in this business. During the six months I was away from home, I realized the value of both life and family, immensely. So, the next I will leave them is when and I die…I can‚Äôt afford to miss them again, not even for a day, so there is no turning back. I am a businessman now, ‚ÄòRaja the fisherman‚Äô is no more,‚Äù he strongly stated.
Recalling the incident where they fell captive and the events that followed, Raja noted that the multi-day vessel, Nimesha Duwa, carrying the six fishermen had been sailing in the Indian Ocean, close to the Maldives. At the time it was hijacked by the pirates on September 28, 2011, Nimesha Duwa had been surrounded by a team of 13 pirates, who had come in three small boats, and threatened the six fishermen to surrender, at gunpoint.¬† Thereafter, the fishermen and the pirates had traveled for 13 long nights, at a stretch, before reaching an island; Raja fails to remember the name of this island.
There, the six Fishermen had been ‚Äòsold‚Äô by those who originally seized Nimesha Duwa, to another set of Pirates, another team of 13, and had been transferred to a different vessel.¬† When the transaction was taking place, a person who identified himself as the leader of the second crew had taken the identity cards and other documents from the fishermen, and had inquired of them some general information about Sri Lanka; such as the name of the President, currency used and the name of the fisheries‚Äô minister, and so on.
After obtaining all telephone numbers, the pirates then, through a translator, had made the first telephone call to the owner of the boat, Nimal Fernando. This had been somewhere in mid December. The panicked owner had then called a meeting and informed all the family members about the unfortunate situation the fishermen had been faced with. Since the respective government authority had refused to help the families, stating that as per their principles, states do not negotiate with informal groups such as pirates and terrorists, the families had no option but to seek the assistance of persons attached to non-governmental organizations, and the media -both print and television.
The pirates had initially demanded us dollars six million as ransom to release the fishermen, but had finally settled to taking whatever amount the families could offer for their release. On and off, the pirates had taken the fishermen, including Raja, along with them on their ventures to highjack vessels.
Anchored in the ports of Somalia are a number of ships and vessels that are both partly and fully wrecked. Although there had been a few Iranians, Pakistanis and a Sri Lankan in Somalia, incarcerated by pirates, what happens to the majority of victims who fail to pay ransom, is a mystery, he said.¬† Apart from sitting around, the fishermen had not been allowed to talk to each other.¬† For the whole of six months they were under the Pirates, Raja said, they never had a bath and barely got any water to drink. Clean water and sanitary facilities had been almost non-existent.
One day, however, the pirates had told the six fishermen to join them, as they had been heading towards South Africa on a mission. Suspicious, Raja and the fishermen had thought that the Pirates were going to either shoot them to death or throw them into the sea. Having no option but to succumb, the fishermen, who at that point considered death a salvation of sorts, picked themselves up and had got into a vessel, along with a few pirates. Two days into the voyage, the fishermen had unanimously agreed to flee the pirates by jumping into the sea in a do or die attempt.
Meanwhile, as they had been planning this, an aircraft had been spying on the vessel, and taken snapshots and monitored the behavior of the pirates and the fishermen and on April 18,2012, Spanish tanker Infanta Elena has approached the pirate ship around 6.00pm in the evening. Making use of the opportunity, however, the fishermen had waved at the ship and shouted ‚Äúfishermen, Sri Lanka, problem‚Äù continuously, at the top of their voices, not necessarily minding the risk of being shot by the pirates.
Raja refers to the crew of Infanta Elena as angels sent from above. The pirates had not expected the fishermen to react in such a fashion, let alone the arrival of the tanker, they had been forced to surrender, by the Spanish Navy and they did. Miraculously, the six fishermen were rescued. The rescued fishermen had then been handed over to a Buddhist monk in Tanzania, Illukpitiye Pannasekara thera, who had made necessary arrangements for the men to go back to their families in Sri Lanka.
Subsequently, the six fishermen, namely, Selvaraja, Weerasena, Dinesh, Warnakulasuriya, Sebastian and Leon, arrived safely in Sri Lanka on April 26, 2012 and reunited with their families who were, always, hopeful of their return.
As of now, apart from two of the six fishermen, the other four had given up on their previous vocation for good, Raja held. He said that although trawling is highly profitable, as the unpleasant memories from his last voyage keeps haunting him, he would not want to ever fish again.
‚ÄúThe two fishermen I mentioned are as horrified as I am. They have seemingly not got over the incident still. But, as they are young and they have no other option, they still go. I am lucky that way. My children are big now, I do not have to earn as much to keep the fire burning,‚Äù Raja said.
Furthermore, he said that although the six months under the pirates sounds like nothing but a nightmare; it had made him realize the value of life, hence, upon arriving in Sri Lanka, he had resolved to fully give up on alcohol which he was addicted to, but survived without, during his captivity. This, however, he identified as one the greatest things that happened during what he calls ‚Äòthe darkest days‚Äô of his life.