The story of newly-married Allahabad couple Waseem and Samsheem Uddin can inspire the most seasoned scriptwriter. The real-life saga has romance, separation and a villain.
Two weeks after they were married, 25-year-old Waseem set sail on the chemical tanker MT Biscaglia, knowing little about the dangers of entering the Gulf of Aden. On December 28 last year, engine-room watcher Waseem and 27 of his crew members were taken hostage by Somalian pirates who demanded a ransom from the ship owner. For 56 days, Waseem laid flat on the tanker deck with his hands tied. On Friday, he was finally reunited with Samsheem at the Mumbai international airport.
Somalian pirates released MT Biscaglia, which was a ferrying 16,282 tonnes of palm oil, after they were given a ransom of almost $2 million by the ship’s company, ISEC. After the crew members were released, they were provided counselling and even underwent medical check-ups at a port in the Middle East where the crew was changed by the manning agent, the Mumbai-based Ishima Ship Management. The crew has also been granted one month’s leave to recuperate from the trauma.
“We were in severe pain because we were made sleep face down with hands tied,” said chef Sujesh Geevarghese from Kerala, adding that he was only allowed to bake bread for his crew. He described the Somalian chef as a very aggressive and crude man. “All they ate was goat meat and rice. He didn’t even know how to use a hot plate,” he said.
Attempts to protect the ship failed after three of the ship’s security guards escaped. It was in the early hours of the morning that five Somalian pirates, disguised as fishermen, started speeding towards the ship, firing with their AK-47s. The security guards, who only had water cannons and long-range acoustic devices, battled the pirates for 40 minutes after which they gave up.
Thereafter, the Bangladeshi captain and his crew of 25 Indians and two Bangladeshis were stripped of their belongings and held at gunpoint. “They took everything we had – our cellphones, bags, money, clothes, laptops. For 56 days, all they asked for was money,” says 31-year-old Mukesh Kamlakar Tabib, the third engineer who lives in Bhandup. He was greeted by his parents and three siblings.
Even second officer and Jharkhand resident Abhishek Kumar Singh has horror stories to share. He could only recall images of the guns and naval helicopters hovering around the ship. “The pirates issued a 48-hour deadline. They said they would kill us,” he says, adding that the faces of the 20-odd pirates’ started gleaming after they saw the ransom being air-dropped in a watertight cylinder. “They were so happy that they left behind five goats and said ‘see you again, soon’.”
Many of the crew members say they will be back in the high seas. “I don’t mind going back, I’m not scared,” says 40-year-old oiler Ali Karangothi from Chennai who started sailing in 1987, with this being his first experience with Somalians.
Many of the crew members were shocked to see the pirates smoking cigarettes and practising shooting techniques with their AK-47s. They were scared the palm oil would catch fire.