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Indian Crew of Hijacked Ship Recalls 'Nightmare' Experience


Four Indian crew members of a Japanese ship hijacked by Somali pirates two months ago have returned home following the release of their ship. As Anjana Pasricha reports from New Delhi, the sailors recounted their experience in captivity, which they call a "complete nightmare."

The Indian sailors aboard the chemical-tanker MV Stolt Valor landed in Mumbai airport, to a joyous welcome from family members eight weeks after their ship was seized by Somali pirates.

There were 18 Indians in the crew on board. Four have returned. The rest will come to India on Tuesday.

For the sailors, the ordeal is cemented in their minds.

A 20-year-old trainee officer, Naveed Borundkar described how some 30 pirates hijacked the ship, after firing a rocket propelled grenade from a speedboat. He says they fired continuously.

"They were carrying all the automatic guns, Kalashnikovs, stun guns, RPG [rocket-propelled grenade], everything was there. They were heavily armed," he said.

That moment began eight grueling weeks of life in captivity under the eyes of the gun-toting pirates.

Allister Fernandes, 25, says they were terrified, but prayers kept them going.

"With arms and ammunition you are always on gunpoint," he noted. "All 24 hours we were on gunpoint. We were all staying on bridge, navigation area, all 22 crew members were sleeping there, eating there. It was very strict."

Naveed Borundkar says he comes from a family of sailors, but nothing had prepared him for the piracy. He says the mental agony is difficult to describe, but the conditions under which they stayed were as bad.

"Living condition was pathetic, unhygienic and it was unimaginable. It was like we were into the Stone Age," he said.

Indian media reports say a large ransom has been paid to secure the release of the Japanese ship.

The MV Stolt Valor is among scores of ships which have been seized this year by Somali pirates in the Gulf of Aden, a busy navigation route.

The general secretary of the National Union of Seafarers of India, Abdulgani Serang, says the pirates should be called "maritime terrorists."

"When you project them as pirates, you know Simbad the sailor and all those folk lore, romance and adventure, it gives that angle," he said. "But we will request the media to project the pirates as nothing short of maritime terrorism, in fact it is like that."

India says it will strengthen its presence in the dangerous waters off Somalia, by sending another warship to join those from several countries that are patrolling the area. One Indian warship is already deployed in the Gulf of Aden. Last week, the Indian navy said it sank a pirate ship.

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