Home at last! Suez sailors meet families

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New Delhi:  Anxious parents, wives and children holding posters that said "Thank You, Burney Uncle" waited for hours at the Delhi Airport this morning. This wait, so different than the agonising 10 months while their men were hostages for Somali pirates.

A few minutes before 11, the six Indian sailors from the ill-fated Suez emerged. The rescued Indians include:  N K Sharma from Jammu, Sachin Pawase from Maharashtra's Kalyan district,  Infant Biju from Kanyakumari, Prashant Chauhan from Shimla, Satnam Singh from Ambala and Ravinder Gulia from Rohtak.

"We were beaten when they were drunk and they would use anything they could get their hands on to beat us. We were sure they would kill us. There were moments when I wished they would just kill us so that we escape the torture," said N K Sharma, one of the rescued sailors. (Watch: Often we had no food, water, say sailors)

They all made it a point to thank Pakistan for securing their freedom.  "It was the Pakistani ship the Babur that responded to us," they said, adding that the Indian navy 's Godavari warship, sent to escort the Suez after a Pakistani warship got their first,  had ignored their SOS-es. (Watch: "Never step foot on a ship again") The Babur took the Suez crew to Oman; the Pakistani warship Zulfiqar took them from Oman to Karachi yesterday; and alst night, the Indan government flew them from Pakistan to Dubai, from where they caught a flight to Delhi this morning.

External Affairs Minister SM Krishna said that India "appreciates the role of Pakistan in bringing the sailors home." Rejecting criticism from the Indians on the Suez, and the media,  the minister also said that "India did all it needed to bring them home... without the Government of India's efforts, this would not have happened."

The Suez was attacked by pirates 10 months ago. The 22 crew members included four Pakistanis. Ansar Burney, the Pakistani human rights activist, has devoted his time to a painstaking negotiation for their release. With the ship's Egyptian owners, he talked the pirates down from a 20 million dollar ransom to 2.1 million dollars. Some of the ransom was paid by the Suez owners; the balance was raised by Mr Burney through donations in his country.

The posters that thanked him at the Delhi Airport today were a tiny manifestation of what he means to the families of the Indian sailors. (Watch: Will not let my son go back to merchant navy, says Suez sailor's father)

After the ransom was paid, the pirates told the Suez crew it was free to head home.  But within a few hours, the ship was attacked again. Pakistan sent the PNS Babur to escort the Suez to safer waters.  Sailors and their families say the Indian government, on the other hand, ignored cries for help.  After criticism, India deputed the INS Godavari to pull up along the Suez.  At this point, India claims, aggressive manouevres by the Pakistani warship led to it grazing the Godavari.  Strong statements were issued by both countries.

As the Suez moved towards the port of Salalah in Oman, it developed serious technical problems, and began sinking. The crew moved to the PNS Babur. At Oman, they were transferred onto the PNS Zulfiqar, which took them to Karachi yesterday where they received a grand welcome.  Diplomats from India, Pakistan and Egypt were there to receive them. So was a man with a familiar voice - Mr Burney.

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