Sailor Golam Mostafa is inconsolable, as his tears make it obvious, after landing at Shahjalal International Airport. Golam and six other sailors returned home yesterday after being held captive by Somali pirates for three and a half years. Photo: Palash Khan
After three and a half years of tethering between life and death, the seven Bangladeshi seafarers held captive by Somali pirates, are finally back home.
Freedom took its finest form when they returned to the soil of their motherland - landing at Shahjalal International Airport at 8.40am yesterday morning.
Yet even the joy of coming home seemingly could not override the trauma the sailors have suffered – questions by the press were met with responses like, “Please not now, I do not want to recall it” or “It is a long story, I am tired”.
“Our fate could have been like that of the Indian sailor with us. He was shot dead because no one wanted to pay ransom for him,” 46-year old Nurul Haque from Satkhira, one of the rescued, said when he finally talked to journalists.
Abul Kashem described how the Somalian pirates suspended their captain into the sea with a piece of rope everyday to torment the sailors.
“When the UN refused to pay the ransom of $ 3.5 million, the pirates intensified their torture,” Haque said.
“We were off the coast of Maldives, about 1200 nautical miles away from where the pirates were anchored on the Indian Ocean,” he said.
Pirates took 23 men – nationals form Iran, Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh - into captivity when they hijacked the Malaysian flagged vessel called MV Albedo on November 26, 2010.
The Albedo ultimately sank last year after which the abducted sailors were transferred to the jungles of Somalia. Four Sri Lankan sailors drowned when the ship went down.
The sailors' escape is a tale of courage and risk.
“We convinced our translator he could keep the ransom money UN pays if he helped us escape. From then on our lives depended on how much we could trust him,” Haque said as he described their escape.
The translator provided the captives with a mobile phone to communicate with UN officials, who baited the translator with a promise of $ 200,000.
“It took a month to formulate the plan. On the fateful night we broke out through a window,” Haque said.
The men then walked for miles through the jungle before being met with a car arranged by the translator. The car dropped them somewhere where another group of people met them.
“It was a dark night, the waiting men signaled at us using torch lights and we just followed the light. They led us out of the pirates' territory,” Haque said.
The escaped sailors were then taken to a village where the fisheries minister received them, Haque said.
A special aircraft of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), in Kenya flew them to Nairobi from where the men were brought back home yesterday.
Meanwhile the Maritime Piracy and Humanitarian Response Programme (MPHRP) which assisted in their release, has agreed to $200 per month to the rescued men to help their rehabilitation, according to a statement released by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.