Stolt Valor crewmen return to India, say were not tortured (Lead)

November 24th, 2008 - 3:40 pm ICT by IANS  

Mumbai, Nov 24 (IANS) Five of the 18 Indian crew members of MT Stolt Valor, a ship that was hijacked by Somali pirates in September, returned to Mumbai Monday. They said that they were held in cramped conditions, but were not subjected to physical torture.The crewmen - Estidore Fernandes and Alistair Fernandes of Goa, Navid Borundkar of Ratnagiri, and Santosh Patil and Om Prakash Shukla of Mumbai - are in good health.

Alistair Fernandes said they lived in cramped conditions at an unknown, desolate location on shore with 20-25 heavily armed pirates guarding them round-the-clock.

“All 22 of us were dumped in one room measuring about 30×40 feet. We were allowed out in pairs to use a bathroom outside,” he told reporters at a press conference here.

Patil said they were given food, but it was of poor quality and they ate it only to survive.

MT Stolt Valor, with 22 crewmembers including 18 Indians, was hijacked by a group of Somali pirates off the Yemen coast Sep 15 while it was bound for Mumbai from the Suez Canal.

The pirates took the Japanese-owned vessel to the Somali coast and demanded a ransom of $6 million. They released the ship Nov 16 after reportedly collecting $2.5 million from the ship’s owners. The cargo vessel was managed by Fleet Marine Management Service Ltd, Mumbai.

National Union of Seafarers of India (NUSI) general secretary Abdul G. Serang, who was also present at the press conference, urged “concerted international efforts” to contain piracy in the seas off Somalia.

“It is high time we stop referring to them as ‘pirates’ - they are nothing but ‘maritime terrorists’ and they should be dealt with as such,” Serang said.

Serang expressed his gratitude to the Indian government and the Indian Navy, which he said was doing “a great job of patrolling” in the pirate-infested waters.

He added that MT Stolt Valor “is in good, sea-worthy condition” and will return to Mumbai by Tuesday afternoon.

The remaining 13 crewmen who hail from different parts of the country, are expected to start returning from Muscat Tuesday onwards, depending on availability of flights, he said.

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